Leadership at core of Hawks' success
Before the season, the Blackhawks were projected to finish with 112 points.
They presently have 55 in 37 games after beating Nashville on Tuesday.
This is a team that already has won two Stanley Cups in the last four years and has to be favored to grab a third this spring.
Why are the Hawks so successful?
It starts with a core of players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa, who put winning above all else.
Just ask coach Joel Quenneville about that.
"I like our team," Quenneville said. "We've got a lot of the same characteristics that were important when we did win the Cup, and a lot of the same people. I think our core group that has had the privilege of winning both Cups, they lead the way. Their attitude and approach game to game puts us in the right place.
"They prioritize the importance of being good every single night or every shift, and it's contagious. Everybody wants a little bit more as we go along here, and I think it's a healthy internal competition of either getting more quality ice time and that helps push each other in a positive way.
"But again, the experienced guys and our leaders really help put us on the right track."
The Hawks are as deep as any team in the NHL and everyone contributes.
"We want a four-line team," Quenneville said. "With scheduling and back-to-back games you want to make sure you're fresh. Whether it's a necessity or a need, we're getting contributions from everybody. Guys are coming ready to play and the veteran guys are leading that charge. The way we play is pretty simple -- just bring energy and purpose."
The Hawks lead the league in offense and are third on the power play. Defensively they are middle of the pack, largely because of a penalty killing unit that is still a work in progress.
"I think we just have confidence in one another in this room that we have the ability to win games when we're playing the right way and everything kind of takes care of itself," Keith said.
Despite their early success, the Hawks haven't been able to pull away from anyone in the Western Conference.
"We wanted to put ourselves in a good position going forward, to try to not be playing catch up," general manager Stan Bowman said. "The last time around we dug ourselves a bit of a hole and had to spend a lot of energy to just get back into the race. Now we've had a good start. Now the challenge is to continue that.
"As good as we've played, we haven't recently distanced ourselves from the people behind us. That just shows how competitive the division and the conference is. It's full steam ahead. We're focused on continuing to win."
Not being satisfied is another of the Hawks' best traits, according to Kane.
"We have a great thing going with the group we have," Kane said. "The thing about our team with the guys we have -- no one is really ever satisfied with what we're doing."
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are two of the six players from around the league who have been asked by equipment manufacturer Bauer to wear the new, revolutionary lightweight Odin pads and skates in the upcoming Sochi Olympics.
Toews has already started to wear the bodysuit in games.
"The last thing you want to do on the ice is be worrying about your equipment," Toews said. "That's exactly what this equipment, from the shoulder pads to the shin pads, accomplishes because you don't feel like you're wearing anything."
Kane also gave his new equipment a big thumbs-up. Bauer officials contend it is four pounds lighter than other equipment, which translates to more speed on the ice.
"To have something that light and you're still protected and able to move around, I think will go a long way, especially when you get to the third period and overtimes in games to help you stay fresh," Kane said.
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals, goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers also will be wearing the new equipment in the Olympics.
"You still have protection and good movement out there," Backstrom said. "I have only positive things to say about it."
The Hawks on Thursday recalled goaltender Jason LaBarbera from Rockford and sent Kent Simpson down. LaBarbera was acquired from Edmonton on Saturday.
•Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone.
Blackhawks game dayBlackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks at the United Center, 7 p.m. Friday
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WGN-AM 720
The skinny: Roberto Luongo started Thursday's game at Dallas so there's a good chance Canucks coach John Tortorella will go with former Wolves goalie Eddie Lack on Friday. Antti Raanta makes his sixth straight start for the Hawks, who are seeking their third straight win. The Hawks beat the Canucks 2-1 back in November in their only other meeting this season.
Next: New Jersey Devils at the United Center, 7 p.m. Monday.
-- Tim Sassone