The Chicago Blackhawks haven’t looked overly impressive of late, but they’re still getting wins and producing other positives
No one can take this away from the Chicago Blackhawks at this very moment: They’re atop the NHL with 35 points through 25 games. Yes, Montreal has two games in hand with one fewer point, but the Blackhawks had the most points in the league at the start of Friday.
So how can we really complain at this point? Well, the Blackhawks haven’t looked terribly impressive of late despite picking up quite a few points.
The Circus Trip was the definition of “meh,” with the Blackhawks going 3-3-1 and certainly stealing some points along the way. The first two games back at the United Center since that trip have both required extra time for Chicago to win.
The Blackhawks just haven’t looked particularly impressive despite racking up points at a solid rate. Sure, some of this has been the result of Jonathan Toews missing time due to a reported back injury, but even with him around for the start of the Circus Trip, things were far from perfect.
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Still, it’s not as though the Blackhawks have been the luckiest hockey players on Earth and are acquiring two points a night playing like a minor league club. There have been positives from this recent run of points through so-so play. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Corey Crawford is still shining
Since the start of the Circus Trip, Crow has had seven starts in net. If you throw out the games against Winnipeg and Edmonton, in which the Blackhawks lost by a combined 9-0 margin, Crow has been keeping Chicago in a lot of games.
Against Calgary on Nov. 18, Crow stopped 28 of 30 shots as the Blackhawks putzed their way to a 3-2 win. The goaltender played well enough to earn a win against San Jose on Nov. 23, stopping 33 of 35 shots in a 2-1 defeat.
Crow’s next three outings have looked like this: 34 saves on 36 shots against Anaheim, 38 saves on 39 shots against Florida and 30 saves on 33 shots against New Jersey. The Blackhawks pulled five of six points from three games in which the opposing team arguably looked better.
Crow was behind much of that, and he’s been behind a lot of Chicago’s success early this season. His .954 save percentage is third among any goaltender with 10 or more starts (behind Carey Price‘s .958 and Devan Dubnyk‘s .956). His 12 wins are tied for second in the league. He’s made the second-most saves in the league, behind just Cam Talbot.
So yes, goaltender is not an issue for Chicago despite iffy play in other areas.
The penalty kill is improving
The Blackhawks’ shorthanded unit almost had to get better after starting the season looking totally lost. The group is back above a 70 percent kill rate (if just barely, at 70.1), and recent games have certainly spurred that.
Chicago has killed 18 of its last 26 penalties … which still isn’t all that impressive, checking in at a 69.2 percent success rate. But that has managed to improve the penalty kill percentage, given that it was so poor before the Circus Trip.
I don’t know that the Blackhawks are doing anything different of late to actually improve their penalty kill. The percentage is still going to get better, as the Blackhawks certainly aren’t more than 6 percentage points worse than anyone else in the league in killing penalties (as they are now). Toews eventually returning can only help.
Scoring is coming from multiple avenues
Since the start of the Circus Trip up through Thursday’s win against New Jersey, the Blackhawks have received goals from a number of players.
The usual suspects are contributing, of course. Artemi Panarin has two goals in the last nine games (plus a shootout conversion Tuesday). Artem Anisimov can say the same, as can Patrick Kane (both minus the shootout conversion).
But Marian Hossa also has three goals in that timespan, including multiple game-winners to continue his renaissance from last season. Ryan Hartman also has three tallies in the last nine games. Vincent Hinostroza got off the NHL scoring schnide, while Marcus Kruger and Niklas Hjalmarsson contributed rare goals Thursday night.
The second-line guys, broken up or not, are continuing to lead the team offensively. But it hasn’t been just them to this point in the season, far different from last season. Five guys not named Kane, Panarin or Anisimov boast 11 or more points already, while this season’s bottom six is offering a lot more offensive promise than last season’s group.
So in addition to the Blackhawks pulling in some early-season points, they’re also succeeding in other ways. While the team as a whole has room for improvement, there’s certainly no reason to be despairing right now.