Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
Since my last post almost two weeks ago the Blackhawks have gone 4-1-1 in their last six games, improving to 28-7-7 overall after a 1-0 shutout over the LA Kings Monday and featuring all the big-time play they could ask for from their big-time players.
Patrick Kane continues to lead the offensive charge, doing so in a 14-game point streak that ended Monday. Kane scored eight goals and 16 assists in this stretch. Kane ranks second in the NHL in points, trailing only Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, these types of numbers have people pumping him up for MVP considerations. I may sound more like a homer than I’d like but count me in for that MVP talk as well, in large part because I’ve seen the overall turnaround in his overall game since the start of last season.
Kane’s partner in crime, Patrick Sharp, has had a stellar month of December as well, posting 12 goals and six assists, including a hat trick against Colorado on his 32nd birthday Friday. In his last six games, Sharp has totaled seven goals and two assists, good enough work for the NHL to name him its First Star of the Week Monday.
There has also been talk about defenseman Duncan Keith potentially capturing his second Norris Trophy (2010 winner), which is given to the best defenseman. Keith is having his best year to date, tallying three goals and 35 assists for a total of 38 points.
Keith is second in the NHL in overall assists and in his last six games he’s posted eight helpers to go with one goal. Keith’s versatility in playing against the opposing team’s top line along with contributing offensively helps the Hawks control the pace of games while constantly giving opponents something to think about on their end of the ice.
There’s no lack of top defenseman around the NHL with the likes of Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), Zedeno Chara (Boston), Drew Doughty (LA Kings), former Hawk Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg) and PK Subban (Montreal) playing well to name a few but none of them have matched Keith’s consistency overall. If the Hawks keep winning and Keith keeps up this pace, his name will and should be among the three finalists for the Norris at the end of the regular season.
Also included in this run has been victories over division rivals in Nashville and Colorado, but the Hawks’ truest nemesis continues to be the St. Louis Blues. Chicago is 0-2-1 against the Blues, not a good sign as it is looking more and more like they will have to go through teams like the Blues and the Anaheim Ducks in order to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.
Teams like St. Louis and Anaheim give the Hawks problems because of their constant physical play, which can take way open space on the ice and create turnovers. As a constant offensive threat, the Hawks should expect opponents to come at them physically. The Hawks have scored five goals or more in 17 games this season, including in a 7-2 rout of the upstart Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on Friday, they also scored five in a losing effort Saturday against those pesky Blues.
Looking Ahead to January
With the calendar turning to 2014, the Hawks’ schedule features an even slate in its 14 total games with seven at home and seven on the road. Along the way, Chicago should get some challenges from the likes of Colorado, Anaheim, Detroit, San Jose, the New York Rangers and the rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals versus Boston on January 19th.
January features the last full month of games before the Winter Olympic break starts in early February and if the Hawks want to stay on top the Western Conference, they’ll have to take advantage of their home schedule and play solid on the road. Things should start to look a little brighter as starting goalie Corey Crawford is expected to make his return to the lineup from injury early in the month. Crawford hasn’t played since December 8th vs. Florida.
*To Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville for moving into fourth place on the all-time list for regular season wins on December 17th against Nashville. With two Stanley Cups in four years and his constant record of getting the most out of his players, Coach Q has all but assured himself a place in the Hockey Hall Of Fame when he decides to call it quits.
*To Chicago Cubs legend Ferguson Jenkins for participating in the Shoot The Puck Contest at the December 20th game versus Vancouver. Fergie made one shot and deservedly received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
Team Leaders (entering Saturday): Goals — Patrick Kane (22); Assists — Duncan Keith (33); Points — Kane (50); Goals Against Average — Antti Raanta (2.18); Penalty Minutes — Brandon Bollig (61).
The Week Ahead (12/30-1/5/14)
Monday — vs. LA Kings (W 1-0); Thursday — at NY Islanders, 6 PM; Friday — at New Jersey Devils, 6 PM; Sunday — vs. San Jose Sharks, 7 PM.
(All times Central)
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