A lot has been made this week, mostly among the uninformed, about the Chicago Blackhawks and their record-setting streak in gaining at least one point in every game so far to start this season. As it currently stands, following last night’s victory over the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks have started the season with points in 23 straight games (and counting), leading the NHL by a wide margin with 43 points.
What the detractors of this streak like to point out is that “hockey has ties,” which makes it less impressive than the Los Angeles Lakers and their NBA record 33-game winning streak. Nevermind that there hasn’t been a tie in the NHL since before the season-ending lockout nearly a decade ago — meaning, actually, no, hockey does not, in fact, have ties. Or the other argument is that the Blackhawks have actually lost three games during this streak, yet have gained points due to the rule that when a game goes to overtime, each team gets a point, the winner a second point.
The latter is a valid argument for the detractors who like to compare apples to oranges, and the “tie” argument is valid when discussing the Philadelphia Flyers’ record 35-game unbeaten streak — again if you like to compare apples to oranges.
I prefer to let the accomplishment stand on its own. For starters, it’s an original, thanks to those rule changes implemented as the NHL took the ice after a lost season in 2005. The Blackhawks have a streak going that isn’t a winning streak, and it’s not an unbeaten streak — it’s its own thing entirely. And to me, that’s pretty cool, even if I am against awarding a team that loses a point.
Then there is the fact that, those three OT losses notwithstanding, the Chicago Blackhawks are far and away the best hockey team on the planet right now.
That is not hyperbole. This is a team that has absolutely no weakness at all. The Blackhawks are as balanced as a team gets. They are sixth in the league in goals and goals per game, first in goals against and goals against average, second in save percentage, second in shutouts, third in penalty killing and the middle of the pack on the power play, perhaps the weakest aspect of their game. But that’s just nit-picking.
Of course, Chicago is led by the exuberant Patrick Kane, who is in the MVP discussion sitting among the league leaders in points. Jonathan Toews is their do-it-all captain, a stalwart offensively, defensively, on the PK and on the power play. He’s the type of player who gets every important shift, the type of superstar who can also shut down the opposition’s top line. And there is Marian Hossa, the sniper to complement Toews and Kane.
Defensively, no team in the NHL does it better. Led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the defense corps keeps things clean for netminders Corey Crawford and Ray Emery — and the goaltenders have rewarded their defensemen by being stellar between the pipes. Crawford leads the NHL in goals against average and is second in save percentage behind only Ottawa’s Craig Anderson, playing in 14 of the 23 games thus far, while Emery is 6th in the NHL in both goals against average and save percentage, having spelled Crawford in 10 games to date. Yeah, that’s two goaltenders in the top 6 in goals against and save percentage. Scary.
And behind those stars are the workhorses, a roster full of guys who are happy to cede the glory but hungry to fulfill their roles. Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg are offensive talents that give Chicago plenty of scoring depth. Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy and Michal Rozsival team up with Seabrook and Keith to provide as good as defense corps as there is. Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and all the way down to Michael Frolik and Dan Carcillo provide energy, great board work and the type of grinders who give Chicago an edge on opponents.
Then, of course, at the helm is none other than Joel Quenneville, the man who led Chicago to the Stanley Cup just a few short years ago and now has them back at the top of the NHL. Quenneville is a name you don’t hear often, certainly not as much as the John Tortorellas, Peter Laviolettes or Mike Babcocks of the world, yet he has his team on the best start the league has ever seen, whipping an underachieving squad from last season into shape and then some here in this condensed, shortened season.
Now a team that I said “to really keep an eye on,” the Blackhawks (please ignore all my other predictions, thanks), are the talk of the NHL and beyond.
So who cares if their streak has a few losses? Who cares if the streak isn’t necessarily a winning streak or an unbeaten streak? What we all should care about is that the Chicago Blackhawks are playing terrifyingly remarkable hockey right now, and they look to have no flaws in their game.
So go ahead and keep comparing apples to oranges if you like. I’m going to just enjoy the fruit and savor every minute of Chicago Blackhawks hockey I can take in.