Look out for Sidney Brown’s weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
As the 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks begin their trek to attempt repeating as Stanley Cup Champions, the team’s 3-1-1 start could be the first sign that they have all the materials needed to go far once again.
No, we clearly won’t see the kind of historic start that we witnessed a season ago, but the Hawks are again setting a tone for potential success. After the season opening victory over the Washington Capitals, the Hawks struggled and lost their next two games against Tampa Bay and St. Louis with two issues that stood out including the Hawks not protecting their leads late in games and their not killing off penalties.
Protecting late leads
The second game of the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning was a prime example of a game the Hawks gave away. Dominating the shots on goal statistic and leading 2-0 to start the 3rd period, the Hawks committed two penalties which allowed the Lightning back in the game with two goals in the final 20 minutes, including one on the power play. The Hawks eventually lost to Tampa in the shootout.
In St. Louis against the Blues this past Wednesday the Hawks played more from behind, even though this heavy-contested rivalry game was back and forth throughout. The Hawks tied the game in the 3rd period but Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook misplayed the puck at a key moment and turned it over, leading to a game-winning goal by Alex Steen and the Hawks left St. Louis with no points to claim.
If the Hawks want to re-establish themselves as one of the best teams in the league this season they must protect leads and play full 60 minute games while dictating the pace and playing their style of game.
Killing off penalties
Last season the Hawks finished in the top five in the regular season in killing off penalties and number one in the playoffs. So far this year, it has been a different story. The Hawks currently are 29th in the NHL in Penalty Kill Percentage (64.3%).
Giving up five power play goals in the first three games is a bad start and hopefully is not a sign of things to come. The team’s trade of Michael Frolik over the summer to Winnipeg is having an effect, but there are other players on the roster — Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig — who can step up and must do so along with being as disciplined as they were a year ago, namely by not committing dumb penalties and by playing strong defense.
On the other side I am encouraged about the power play execution and feel as good about it as any other aspect of the team early in this season. It was such a problem a year ago in the regular season and in the playoffs, but this aspect of the Hawks play has been much better so far. Right now, the Hawks are ninth in the NHL in Power Play Percentage (25%) and that unit has produced, scoring two goals on the power play in St. Louis and another against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday in that 2-1 win.
*Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp played in his 600th career game in the NHL on Saturday against the Sabres.
*Three of the five remaining October games after this week will be on the road, including a home and home set against last year’s first round playoff victim and division rival the Minnesota Wild.
Team Leaders: Goals — Patrick Kane (4); Assists — Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson (4); Points — Patrick Kane (5).
Goalies: Corey Crawford (2-1-1 record, .910 save percentage, 2.46 Goals Against Average); Nikolai Khabibulin (1-0, .895%, 2.00 GAA).
The Week Ahead (10/14-10/19)
Tuesday @ Carolina Hurricanes — 6PM
Thursday vs. St. Louis Blues — 7PM
Saturday vs. Toronto Maple Leafs — 6PM
NHL Notes — Week ending 10/13
*Four undefeated teams remain: Colorado Avalanche (5-0); St. Louis Blues (4-0); San Jose Sharks (5-0) and the Calgary Flames (3-0-2).
*San Jose Sharks rookie winger Tomas Hertl became the fourth youngest player in NHL history to score four goals in one game versus the NY Rangers on Oct. 8th in a 9-2 victory.
*Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones, the highest drafted African American ever in the NHL entry draft (No. 4, 1st round, 2013), scored his first career goal in a 3-2 victory over the NY Islanders.
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