Breaking: Reigning Stanley Cup Champions Good at Hockey
With most of the attention in the West focused on the dominating Sharks and the surprising Avalanche, it’s been easy to lose track of the Chicago Blackhawks. But it’s worth checking in with the defending champs, who now have points in five straight games and have climbed to within two points of Colorado for first place in the Central.
On Saturday night, the Hawks toyed with the Maple Leafs, outshooting them 40-20 in a game in which the 3-1 final score probably flattered Toronto. All the scoring came in the second period, with the winner coming on the first career goal from Michael Kostka, a 27-year-old defensive defenseman who spent last year with the Leafs.
That 3-1 final probably felt like a blowout to Chicago fans, as it’s the first time since the season opener against Washington that a Blackhawks contest didn’t end as a one-goal game. All those close games have left Chicago with a goal differential of just plus-4 on the season, despite a 5-1-2 record through eight games.
That fits with the general sense that this year’s Blackhawks haven’t quite clicked yet. The team’s leading scorer through eight games is the unlikely Brandon Saad, with just six points; the big-name forwards have been shifted around as coach Joel Quenneville tries to find line combinations that will provide consistent offense; and the Duncan Keith–Brent Seabrook pairing has been just OK. Goaltender Corey Crawford has looked strong, though, allowing two goals or fewer in four straight.
The good news is that the Hawks should have an opportunity to rack up significant points over the next few weeks, thanks to a schedule packed with struggling teams. They head to Florida this week for a quick two-game road trip to face the Panthers and Lightning before returning to Chicago for the first half of a home-and-home with the Wild. Over the next three weeks, the Blackhawks will play 10 games and face only one team (the Lightning) that currently holds down a playoff spot.
Meanwhile, the Leafs have lost two straight after a 6-1-0 start and remain winless since news broke of the Tyler Bozak–Miley Cyrus victory song scandal. They continue to struggle badly in possession-based metrics despite their winning record, a deficiency that may yet ultimately catch up to them the way that so many have been predicting.