The Chicago Blackhawks went 2-1-0 in week two following an Empire State back-to-back sweep of the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at the United Center. The Hawks have now shifted their focus to week three of the NHL season with three games starting on Tuesday night against an Eastern Conference opponent in the Carolina Hurricanes.
Da Windy City staff takes a look back at week two and potential issues the Hawks might face going forward.
1. The Blackhawks are 3-1-1 following a 2-1 victory over Buffalo, what do you attribute to their slow start before winning a back-to-back this pass weekend?
Campbell: The camaraderie. The Blackhawks chase for the cup last season was something that was special to every member of that hockey team, even the “mental skills” coach–shoutout to Mac and Spiegel. But given the quick turnaround from last season to this season, it stands to reason that the slow start is simply the result of the Blackhawks biding their time. It’s like the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. The Spurs may not be the best regular season team, but come playoff time, the Spurs are always in title contention. Expect that to be the case for the Blackhawks this season.
Bender: The Hawks left a couple points on the board against Tampa Bay and St. Louis by giving up late leads. They were up 2-0 midway through the 3rd against the Lightning and had a silly defensive breakdown in the final minute that cost them the game against the Blues. At 3-1-1, they should have at least 8 points, and maybe even 9 or 10.
Burn: I think that they were just a little shaky during the game against the lightning, they didn’t really look like themselves at all. The lost the game to the Blues because the Blues are a very good team that can compete with them, they were just outplayed I thought.
Cain: Before the Empire State back-to-back sweep it was the forechecking. The Hawks had defensive breakdowns in their own zone against Tampa Bay and saw St. Louis score the game-winner with 21 seconds left in a 2-2 tie on a 3-on-1 breakaway.
2. Who do you think benefits the most from the newly realigned Central division?
Campbell: The St Louis Blues. That is the new rivalry for the Blackhawks. With the Hawks rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings on the back-burner, the Blues can now emerge as the local rivalry for the Hawks. As the Blues proved last week, this is a team that can give the Hawks some trouble this season.
Bender: Winnipeg. Since moving from Atlanta, they have had arguably the most brutal travel schedule in the NHL, playing their home games in Canada while still in the “Southeast” Division. Now that their new division makes much more sense geographically, they should have fresher legs with a lot less jet lag.
Burn: I would have to say Winnipeg because there will be less traveling for the team which could mean they’ll have more gas left in the tank when it comes time to play the games. It was tough for traveling so far for them in the past.
Cain: Winnipeg benefits the most for travel reasons but Colorado will see the benefit in the standings and in their pockets. Colorado would be battling with Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim for the Pacific Division three playoff spots but in the Central they have Chicago, St. Louis, and maybe Minnesota or Dallas putting up a worthy fight. Also, the Pepsi Center has the all-time NHL record for longest consecutive attendance sell outs. Playing in a division with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, and Nashville’s young stars Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones will keep the revenue flowing for Colorado.
What Blackhawk has surprised you the most thus far?
Campbell: Corey Crawford. I have always had my doubts about Crawford, but to this point, he continues to impress me as the team’s goalie.
Bender: It’s still too early to tell for sure, but so far I like what I’ve seen from Chicago’s “other” Joakim, Joakim Nordstrom. He tallied his first career goal on Friday vs. the Islanders and moved up to the third line.
Burn: I know it’s an easy one, but he’s been phenomenal so far. Patrick Kane with the 4 goals in 5 games and two power play goals. He’s been absolutely magnificent putting the puck in the net. He and Toews are great leaders to have on your team.
Cain: Brandon Saad, nicknamed “the man-child” is in his second full season with the Hawks and has quietly recorded four points on two goals and two assists. Saad would likely celebrate this feat with a cold one but he is only 20 years old.
Hawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made his first start in four years for the Hawks on Friday. What did you think of seeing the Russian back in net?
Campbell: My doubts about Crawford are minor in comparison to my doubts about Khabibulin during his first stint with the team. I came away impressed with Khabibulin’s season debut on Friday. Though, if we are talking about Khabibulin consistently this season then something has gone terribly wrong with the Hawks season.
Bender: Haha oh you know, just another backup goalie playing like a backup…typical.
Burn: I thought for not being the net the past four years he was great. He saved 17/19 shots, which isn’t a lot of shots, but the defense did a great job limiting the Islanders’ shot count. He also was 3-3 on killing power plays which is so key.
Cain: Khabibulin was impressive but he was not flashing the glove like he did four years ago. The Russian will not be as impressive as Ray Emery was last year in the backup role but he will help Hawks new goalie coach Steve Weeks mold Crawford into a better net-minder.
Who is the Hawks’ biggest threat in the Central division and why?
Campbell: St. Louis
Bender: The Hawks are clearly the class of the new Central division, but the Blues pose the biggest threat. After acquiring defenseman Jay Bouwmeester last April, the Blues closed the regular season on an 11-3-0 run and took the first two games in the first round from the Kings before dropping four straight.
Burn: I think the Colorado Avalanche are the biggest threat at this point. They’re 5-0 with 3 of those wins coming on the road. They have balanced scoring and great goalie work. Through five games, Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere have allowed just four goals.
Cain: St. Louis will be the biggest threat due to their experience and defensive pressure. Currently, Colorado and St. Louis are tied atop the division with Colorado coming off three straight wins on the road.