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Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks: Power Rankings And Glory

Chicago BlackhawksNow Playing: Luther Allison - Live In Chicago (1999)

Being as it was the first to pop up in my twitter feed on a busy Monday, ESPN.com’s NHL Power Rankings were the first I checked last week, and wouldn’t you know, the Chicago Blackhawks topped the list. That said, I find it a bit difficult to take some of what ESPN says about hockey seriously, mainly because of their lack of involvement in it. I then checked several other sources, and about 90% of them had the Blackhawks at either 1 or 1a behind the Sharks. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I believe their recent performance didn’t warrant the accolade, it’s just been so long since I’ve actually seen it without lying to myself terribly.

In their first game after all the rankings surfaced, the Blackhawks took the ice for a possible season-defining game for the second time in ten days against the same opponent, the San Jose Sharks. The Hawks and the recently activated Marian Hossa lived up to all the hype Wednesday by thoroughly dismantling the (arguably) best team in the league. They managed to effectively neutralize the Sharks’ two biggest weapons: the Thornton-Heatley-Marleau line and their power play. More importantly, however, they managed to achieve a level of play that I’m not sure I have ever seen as long as I’ve been following the squad on West Madison St. There were breakouts with seamless transitions through the neutral zone allowing them to set up their offense immediately in San Jose’s end, which, in and of itself, was a thing of beauty. The puck movement and the cycling down low looked excitingly out of place for a team wearing the Indian Head sweater. I was fortunate to be watching the game at a local establishment with my pops, and he and I left there with smiles from ear to ear. And then came SoCal…

As impressive as the Blackhawks looked Wednesday, it’s possible they looked just as flat on the ensuing weekend in “the O.C.” At times, my cohorts commented that it actually looked like our television feed was in slow-motion. “Skating on sandpaper” is the phrase I like to use, but whatever you call it, it was baffling to see such labored efforts from a team that less than 48 hours prior put up their best effort of the season. Now in past years I would have been much more distressed than I am now, as the Blackhawks have a reputation (well, at least with me they do) for playing to the level of their opponent. Getting up for the rivalry matchup is a piece of cake, but it’s preparing for the ones against the cellar-dwellers with guys looking to make a statement that takes commitment. And I do not believe that this team is suffering any of that at all. I’m very much OK with saying (and this time, honestly believing) that it was the end of a long road trip, and in the end they captured 9 out of 12 possible points, and made a very loud statement with their dominance at the Shark Tank in doing so.

I don’t believe that there is any reason to expect many more performances like the ones we saw at the end of the circus trip if the Hawks play the style of hockey that suits them best. In my last “edition” (yeah, I’m going to call it that, just let me have that much) I pointed out that the penalty killers and grinders like Madden and Brouwer were going to be key factors, and well, they have not disappointed, that’s for sure. Three shorties in San Jose is great, but the Blackhawks must stay out of the penalty box. Not only does it throw a major wrench into line pairings, but it puts unnecessarily hard minutes on your key players, especially Keith and Seabrook, where they have considerably less opportunity to contribute offensively. It also allows for more time that Brent Sopel is on the ice, and that usually puts us at a disadvantage to begin w-…don’t get me started on that.

The other aspect we should see focus on is shots on goal. There’s an embarrassment of riches on this team right now. I can’t fault them for trying to find the prettiest route to the back of the net, but the best way to get opportunities and open up a team defensively is to get the maximum amount of pucks within inches of lighting their lamp as possible. Every so often there’s a crazy bounce or deflection, and the right guys are there to capitalize. Grip it and rip it boys.

Now we prepare for a brief two-game homestand before another benchmark game in Pittsburgh against Malkin, Crosby, and the Penguins. This will be another important stretch again, including not only impact on division standings, but also league-wide strength preception. Every week has me more and more excited to see what happens next. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, musings. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!



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