5 things we now know about 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks
With one-fourth of the NHL regular season in the books, we pause to ask this question: Just who are the 2017-18 Blackhawks?
The Hawks have certainly put their fans through a wild first 20 games -- giving them everything from a crazy 10-1 opening-night victory to an absurd scoring drought to fantastic goaltending to impossible-to-keep-track-of forward lines and defense pairings.
So what have we learned thus far? Let's take a look.
1. Battle to the end?
If the playoffs began today, the Hawks (10-8-2, 22 points) might be in the playoffs. It's difficult to know for sure because while the Hawks technically hold the first wild-card spot, they've also played more games than Minnesota (20 points), San Jose (20) and Anaheim (19).
Right now, the Hawks aren't any better -- or worse -- than most of the teams in a wide-open Western Conference. The standings are so tight that 2 wins can vault a team up 2-3 spots, but 2 losses can drop them near the bottom of the division.
"We have to start rolling here putting ourselves in a good position," Brent Seabrook said before the Hawks traveled to Pittsburgh, where they won 2-1 Saturday. "The last thing we want to be doing is battling for the last two or three games of the season to make the playoffs."
If it is nip and tuck down the stretch, the Hawks' last five games against Winnipeg (home), Colorado (away), St. Louis (away), St. Louis (home) and Winnipeg (away) will be awfully entertaining.
2. Holy mackerel:
Reporters erupted in laughter when they thought Artem Anisimov used an expletive in describing what he's going to do with the puck from his 3-goal game against the Rangers last week.
Turns out we all misunderstood the big Russian center when he said: "I don't know, probably going to do some sheet (and) put it on a wall."
Anisimov was serious, but his accent made it sound like he was swearing. Of course, the only people swearing right now are Hawks opponents going up against Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane. Since coach Joel Quenneville put them together, the Hawks have scored 17 goals while going 3-1-0.
Anisimov has 5 goals and has averaged 4.8 shots on goal (he averaged 1.8 in the previous 16 games); Schmaltz has 6 assists; and Kane has a goal and 4 assists.
3. Quite a pair
Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta have appeared in just 75 NHL games combined, but you certainly wouldn't know it by their play of late. They have earned Joel Quenneville's trust to the point that the coach has put them on the second 'D' pairing the last two games.
Forsling (2 goals last four) has shown vast improvement from last season, and Rutta has transitioned beautifully from playing on bigger rinks overseas. Both are huge parts of an improved penalty kill and appear to have bright futures ahead.
4. A killer kill
The Blackhawks' penalty-killing units have been sensational, allowing just 2 power-play goals on 22 short-handed situations the last eight games. The most impressive had to be the double minor the Hawks killed off late in the first period against the Rangers on Wednesday.
5. Steady as she goes
The Hawks went through an ugly 12-game stretch, but since losing at Philadelphia on Nov. 9, there's a lot to like.
The offense has exploded. The passing is crisper. Bodies are flying to the net. The power play is coming around. And Corey Crawford still looks sensational.
And while all that is good, this still appears to be a team in transition. We may not see any long winning streaks, but as long as there are no big skids, the Hawks should be right there come April.
Which brings us back to Point No. 1 -- this year's marathon may indeed come down to the end.
So buckle up and hang on. This wild ride has just begun.