The Blackhawks played their 23rd game on Saturday night, a 2-1 overtime loss the Los Angeles Kings.
The game was a microcosm of the season: getting outplayed early, struggling with special teams (this time the power play), with a great goaltending performance giving them the chance at points. But coach Joel Quenneville says the Blackhawks are heading in the right direction.
“I think it’s progressed here,” he said of the team’s identity. “I think it’s been better as far as how we played defensively. We’re getting a little more predictable in some areas without the puck. I still think we can be better with it. That’s the area where we have room for growth.”
The Circus Trip (3-3-1) usually gives the Blackhawks a good idea of where they are at this point but we’re going to look at the whole picture thus far. So as the Blackhawks head back to Chicago, here is a breakdown on how they are looking a quarter into the season.
What’s been good: Goaltending. When the Blackhawks have struggled in various aspects of their game, Corey Crawford or Scott Darling have given them the chance to collect points. Darling was the latest to help in this department, recording a 27-stop outing to end the Circus Trip on a semi-positive note. Crawford’s record of 10-6-2 includes a 7-0-2 streak from Oct. 24 to Nov. 13. He recorded two shutouts during that run.
What’s been underwhelming: the penalty kill. The usual stuff wasn’t working for the Blackhawks when they started the season. The kill was dreadful, allowing 15 goals through the Blackhawks’ first eight games. It improved after that, although it’s still showing off nights – please see Edmonton, when it was just 2 for 4. The Blackhawks will not end this season with glowing penalty kill numbers; their awful start insures that. But going forward it has to be a lot more reliable.
Who has been hot: Marian Hossa. Remember when we all thought Hossa’s best days were behind him? Well, we were wrong. Very, very wrong. Credit the long offseason for most of it – and getting that 500th career goal put him at ease, too – but Hossa is having a renaissance season. He was at his best as part of the Blackhawks’ second line with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov, but his strength on the puck and his defensive game have never wavered. Through 22 games Hossa has 11 goals. He had 13 all of last season.
Who has not: Jonathan Toews. Offensively, the captain has been frustrated. He had four goals in a five-game stretch in late October/early November but has no goals since Nov. 6. Reunited with Hossa in San Jose, Toews said he had to mimic the veteran: “I think you look at the way Hoss has been playing, he’s been so strong on the puck, keeping plays alive. I think for myself, if I wanted to get more chances and create more offense, I’ve got to do much of the same. I have to be harder on the puck.” On the flip side, you realize how valuable Toews is when he’s out of the lineup. He’s by far the Blackhawks’ best faceoff man. The lines were very altered in his absence. Toews does plenty but there’s no doubt he needs to start producing again.
What’s been surprising: The Blackhawks’ overall record. Despite the ups and downs, slow starts and dependence on comebacks, the Blackhawks are doing damn well in the standings. They finished the Circus Trip not just atop the Central Division, but also the Western Conference with 31 points. Again, goaltending gets a big pat on the back through this first quarter of the season. So did a heavy early home schedule; the Blackhawks are currently 8-1-2 at the United Center. But good teams find ways to win, or at least get a point, and the Blackhawks are still doing that.