Three big reasons Chicago Blackhawks best in West

Sports writers have a tendency to be a cynical bunch, and we can definitely find the negative in almost any situation.

This is especially true for those of us who cover the Chicago Blackhawks as we'll sit around before, during and after games talking about:

• How awful the team's league-worst penalty kill is.

• The fact that the Hawks have scored just 6 regulation goals in the last five games.

• Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have combined for just 12 goals after 24 games.

• Without Toews the last three games, the Hawks have won just 39.2 percent of their faceoffs.

And on and on and on.

Seriously, the way we talk you'd think the Hawks were 6-15-3 instead of 15-6-3.

The fact of the matter is coach Joel Quenneville's squad is somewhat fortunate to have the best record in the Western Conference, but as Bill Parcells once said: "You are what your record says you are."

To me, there are three big reasons the hardly perfect Hawks are on pace for a 113-point season:

1. Corey Crawford

Among goalies with at least 10 starts, Crawford ranks ninth with a .928 save percentage and 12th with a 2.23 goals-against average. Those numbers don't exactly pop off the page at you, but that's because the Hawks' penalty kill has been so wretched that it's skewing Crawford's numbers in the wrong direction.

Since he became a starter in 2010, Crawford has posted even-strength save percentages of .924, .915, .934, .926, .932 and .933.

Know what it is this year?

Try .956. The only goalies who can beat that are Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk and Montreal's Carey Price.

2. Dynomite D-men

Rarely, if ever, do we focus our postgame questions on perhaps four of the biggest unsung heroes of this season: the Hawks' defensemen.

Again, like the rest of the team, they haven't been perfect, but Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell are doing everything they can to make life miserable for their opponents.

All four rank in the top 50 among NHL D-men in plus-minus rating, with Keith's plus-8 leading the way. Hjalmarsson, meanwhile, continues to thwart would-be scorers at every turn with his stick and his body. The eighth-year pro ranks seventh in blocked shots with 51.

It's more than the numbers, though. More times than not, it's just about them being in the right spots to break up a rush, spot an open teammate 100 feet down the ice or sweeping a puck out of harm's way when Crawford does allow the rare juicy rebound.

It may not be glamorous work, but these veterans are getting the job done, and it's paying huge dividends for the Hawks.

3. Close … and a cigar

The Blackhawks' ability to prevail in 1-goal games might be the single biggest reason for their success thus far.

Last season a Hawks team that racked up 103 points went 17-7-9 in 1-goal games. That included an 11-9 mark in overtimes or shootouts.

This season the Hawks are a remarkable 10-3-3 in 1-goal games and 10-1-3 since losing at Nashville on Oct. 14 and Columbus on Oct. 21. They are 6-3 in overtimes or shootouts.

A stunning 67 percent of their games have been decided by 1 goal, compared to 40 percent last season.

Can this continue? Well, with the way Crawford and the defenders in front of him are playing, it's possible … and probably even necessary until Toews returns from a nagging upper-body injury that has cost him three games already.

So hang on to your hats and keep the Pepto handy … more wild rides are likely on the horizon.

Scouting report

Blackhawks vs. New Jersey Devils at United Center, 7:30 p.m. Thursday

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WGN 720-AM

The skinny: The Devils and Blackhawks have gone to overtime more times than any other teams in the league. New Jersey is 5-5, while the Hawks are 6-3. … The Hawks beat the Devils 3-2 in OT on Oct. 28 thanks to a Marian Hossa goal with 2:11 left in regulation and an Artem Anisimov tally 75 seconds into extra time. … New Jersey is 0-4-1 in its last five road games. … Only four Devils have scored 5 or more goals, with Michael Cammalleri (7) leading the way. All of his goals have come in the last six games.

Next: Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center, noon Sunday

- John Dietz

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.