Reporting Steve Silverman
By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Blackhawks are getting the message.
The Stanley Cup will not be awarded tonight, but if the Hawks (12-0-3) can earn a point against the hated but thoroughly professional Vancouver Canucks tonight, they will tie the record for longest-streak to start a season without a regulation loss.
The Anaheim Ducks set that record with a 12-0-4 start to the 2006-07 season and went on to win the Stanley Cup that year.
The Blackhawks, however, know that the shortened NHL season will not be stopped and Lord Stanley’s hardware will not be awarded by keeping the “L” column clean against the Canucks.
Captain Jonathan Toews basically dismissed the accomplishment, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, ‘‘What is it, 15 games into the season?’
Goalie Ray Emery also put the accomplishment into perspective by saying it is important to get off to a good start in this truncated season, but it is even more important to finish well.
This explosive start is very meaningful and much of the attention has gone to Patrick Kane, who is playing stellar hockey and leads the team with nine goals and 21 points. It seems that every time Kane has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, the Blackhawks have a good chance to score.
It’s a lot more than just the Patrick Kane show that has allowed the Blackhawks to jump to the top of the Western Conference though. Toews, of course, is right in the middle of just about everything, and Marian Hossa continues to assert himself. That’s a lot of skill, more than about 90 percent of the NHL teams have on their roster.
Meanwhile, head coach Joel Quenneville has also gotten stellar contributions from players like Ray Emery, Duncan Keith and Dave Bolland.
Emery has been able to take significant pressure off of starting goaltender Corey Crawford, who was slowed by an upper-body injury last week after a collision with Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan.
Emery is 5-0-0 with a 2.17 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. He came up with perhaps the game of the year when he was in net for the Blackhawks’ 3-2 shootout victory on the road over the Calgary Flames Feb. 2. Emery made 45 saves as the Blackhawks were outskated and outplayed throughout the game, but came up with the win.
“That was criminal,” Quenneville told reporters after the game. “They’ve got to call the cops after that performance. [Emery] stole two points. He was spectacular.”
That victory is the magical game the Blackhawks needed to have such a spectacular getaway. They played the Canucks the night before and sold out before losing in a shootout, leaving them with very little left in the tank for the mediocre Flames.
Emery has been solid as a backup for the Blackhawks, Ducks and Flyers in recent years, but he has taken it to a new level this season.
So has Keith, who is seemingly on the ice for about half the game. Keith is averaging 24:10 of ice time per game. He has scored nine points and is one of the best puck carriers in the game.
Few defenseman can go from defense to offense as quickly as Keith. His transition game is one of the primary reasons the Hawks are so difficult to defend.
Keith is playing nearly as well as he did in the Blackhawks’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup season.
Then there’s center Dave Bolland, who in no way qualifies as a superstar but continues to make vital contributions.
When Toews or Patrick Sharp are not on the ice, the tendency might be to think that the Blackhawks are at a disadvantage. But Bolland merely goes out and plays hard. He is a solid, all-around player who has five goals and has connected on 27.8 percent of his shots. That’s a remarkable percentage that will be difficult to maintain, but Bolland makes them count.
Finally, give at least some consideration to Quenneville for this hot start.
The heat is definitely on the Hawks’ coach after two straight first-round defeats. The whispers were loud and clear that after the Blackhawks’ loss last spring to the Coyotes, Quenneville was facing a key season in his employment.
He has, as they say, gotten the boys’ attention.
History says that these sensational starts lead to glory at the end of the season. Teams like the’06-07 Ducks, 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers (12-0-3 start) and the ancient 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens (11-0-3) went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks certainly have that capability if they can maintain their health and focus.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.