Before the Blackhawks played their first game we wrote about the five keys to their season.
How are those keys looking now, a quarter of the way into the abbreviated 48-game schedule?
They’re looking pretty good, to say the least.
The Hawks are 10-0-2 and have played only two games at the United Center. Looking to continue their crazy success, they return to home ice Tuesday night against Anaheim after a 4-0-2 road trip.
“I think we’ve done a good job of staying in the moment and taking it game by game,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We did some good things on the road trip and now we want to carry that momentum back home.
“We’re excited to get back home and to play as hard and take that energy we’ve had on the road back home.
“Just because we’re going back home doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. This team, I think we’re a confident group, but I don’t think we’re a cocky or arrogant group. I think that bodes well for us in the long run.”
Captain Jonathan Toews called it a very good road trip, which certainly is an understatement.
“I don’t think we want to see too much difference in our game when we go home,” Toews said. “We’ve played a lot of smart hockey.
“We found ways to win games even when we weren’t playing our best hockey. There’s a great energy in our locker room that sometimes is hard to get when maybe it gets a little rocky.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum as a team right now, but I think the best thing about it is we go into every game wanting more and wanting to improve on what we did last game.
“When you have that attitude, when you don’t feel satisfied or content of what you accomplished, then you’re going to keep getting better.”
What were those keys? Let’s review.
The Hawks’ biggest question mark has turned into one of the strengths of the team, at least for now. It’s up to Corey Crawford and Ray Emery to keep it going.
“Our goaltending has been strong,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
Crawford leads the NHL with 7 wins and was third with a 1.62 goals-against average and fourth with a .935 save percentage going into Monday’s games.
Emery, meanwhile, has won all three of his starts and single-handedly stole 2 points for the Hawks on the road trip with a 45-save performance at Calgary. His save percentage is .920.
Crawford stumbled a bit at San Jose when he allowed 3 goals on the first 7 shots he faced, but Quenneville left him in there and was rewarded with a win as Crawford got stronger as the game went on.
“It means a lot when the coach leaves you in there,” Crawford said. “It gave me confidence to keep playing hard and battling.”
The penalty killing was first in the NHL with a 92.9 percent success rate. The Hawks have allowed just 3 power-play goals against in 12 games and 42 short-handed situations.
They have rolled three sets of forwards, easing the strain on Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland.
Michal Frolik and Marcus Kruger have been invaluable in their roles as penalty killers.
On the blue line, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya have taken key minutes from Keith and Brent Seabrook. Both Keith and Seabrook are down to playing about 24 minutes a night.
The defensemen have shown an ability to get into the shooting lanes to block shots. The Hawks were eighth in the league in blocked shots, led by Seabrook (35), Hjalmarsson (29) and Oduya (25).
“I think we’ve improved more so on the penalty killing, getting in the lane for shots and showing a willingness to do that,” Quenneville said. “We don’t want to see the pucks go by us.”
The power play still has its ups and downs but has been far more consistent as a threat to break open games.
The Hawks have allowed only 25 goals, third fewest in the NHL.
Enough can’t be said about the play of Hjalmarsson and Oduya as the second pair behind Keith and Seabrook. They have eaten up key minutes and been shot-blocking machines.
Nick Leddy has looked far more comfortable playing in the third pair with either Sheldon Brookbank or Michal Rozsival, getting 15 minutes instead of more than 20.
So far the Bolland experiment is working, even though Bolland has only 6 points. While Bolland still struggles on faceoffs, he has fit in nicely with Patrick Kane and Sharp offensively.
Kane was second in the league in scoring with 19 points and Monday was named the league’s first star for last week when he scored 5 goals and had 2 assists in 3 wins.
Sharp has 11 points.
Their center should get some of the credit.
The Hawks are never going to run teams out of the building. In fact, only Calgary has fewer hits than the Hawks’ 159 in 12 games.
But this is a team that sticks up for each other as evidenced by two recent situations.
Keith jumped in for Jamal Mayers in San Jose after Mayers had been run over by Andrew Desjardins.
The next game at Phoenix it was Mayers going over the boards and taking on Raffi Torres less than three minutes into the game, paying the Coyotes’ winger back for the hit that knocked Marian Hossa out of the playoffs last spring.
It was one of the highlights of the road trip.
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