Nov 27, 2013; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) controls the puck as Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan (23) and left wing Sven Baertschi (47) defend during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have gone 0-2-1 in their last three games, and Hawks fans, not to mention the Hawks players, coaches, and staff are irked. Yet, if you take a moment to step back from the recent frustrations and look at the numbers, the Blackhawks are still in phenomenal shape going into the last few months of the regular season.
The Hawks are still sitting at second in the Western Conference (as well as second overall in the NHL) and the likes of Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are among top five in the league in points and assists, respectively and Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook are in the top ten in the plus-minus category thus far this season. However, as far as all the aforementioned rankings and statistics are concerned, I say this: so what?
As many of you already know, I’m a firm believer that stats are as only as good as the intangibles behind them, and what I mean by intangibles are those factors in sports that can’t be quantified by points and percentages. I’m talking about attributes like team chemistry, leadership, mental hardiness, physical toughness, mindset, and work ethic, to name a few. These qualities are what determine just how good a team or player really is regardless of where they are in the standings or what the numbers are on paper. It’s really a simple and often overlooked fact: if stats completely dictated outcomes in sports, no one would be watching them. Enter the intangibles…
So if intangibles can’t be quantified, how do you measure them for a given team? Simple: see how they respond in adverse circumstances. For teams like the Blackhawks who are great on the ice and great on paper, these adverse circumstances, or “tests” are the best way to truly determine their moxie and medal, because we’ve all seen statistically top-ranked teams fall flat when it matters most.
The Blackhawks have already endured several such tests during the 2013-2014, the most prominent being one Hawks fans know all too well: the Circus Trip. Other smaller but equally important tests the Hawks have endured thus far this season include the last weekend in December where they played three formidable Western Conference teams (Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, and Los Angeles Kings) in four days, and most recently, when in the midst of a slump, they skated against the league leading Anaheim Ducks, followed by the Eastern Conference powerhouse Boston Bruins and age-old rival Detroit Red Wings.
To play seven consecutive road games, three playoff worthy teams back-to-back, and two of the league’s top-performing teams and an historic rival when your team is underperforming no doubt qualify as said adverse circumstances, and are certainly a difficult test for any NHL team (let alone any professional sports team) to overcome. To pass such tests successfully, a team must be replete with the aforementioned intangibles and then some.
That being said you already know the good news. During the Circus Trip, the Blackhawks put up a glowing 6-1 record. Against the Avs, Blues, and Kings the Hawks emerged from the three-game weekend 2-0-1, and would do the same against the Ducks, Bruins and Red Wings. Given those results, if these were graded tests, I think it’s easy to argue the Hawks emerged with an A- average.
Before asking dad for a raise in their allowance however, the regular season semester is far from over for the Blackhawks, and another grueling team-defining test starts tonight. The Hawks will be embarking on yet another long onslaught of road games: six consecutive away games (just one contest short of the Circus Trip), and this time around they’ll all be in the west. Welcome to the Pacific Division Gauntlet. The itinerary is as follows:
Over the span of the next two weeks, the Hawks will be squaring off against each team from the Pacific Division for the last time in the 2013-2014 regular season (sans the Edmonton Oilers, who the Hawks have already swept this season 3-0).
The Pacific Division Gauntlet kicks off tonight for the Hawks with a game against the Calgary Flames followed the very next evening by a visit to Vancouver to take on their bitter rival, the Canucks. It is a rather ironic doubleheader, considering these teams have recently been making headlines not because of their underwhelming play, but rather Canucks head coach John Tortorella trying to have a gentlemanly confrontation with Flames head coach Bob Hartley in Calgary’s lockerroom.
Drama aside, the Blackhawks are taking on a Flames team that has won their last two games despite sitting at 2nd worst in the Western Conference. However, the Hawks have learned recently that despite their past success, they can never phone it in and expect to walk away with a win. The Flames should be an easy start to a long road trip, but Calgary is a team with nothing to lose but pride at this point in the season, and beating the 2013 Stanley Cup champs certainly gives them something to play for this evening, so the Hawks need to be on their toes.
For the Blackhawks, redemption starts in Canada and it starts tonight. Let’s start the journey out right!
FOR THE DAGGER!