Take one look at the top of the Chicago Blackhawks point column and it’s no surprise what you see. Sitting at 12-0-3, the Blackhawks are being led once again by the usual suspects: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. While players like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook – all names which we have become so used to seeing lead the way since the rejuvination of the team – have continue their consistent play, Kane and Toews are the lifeblood of the Hawks franchise and have given the team new life.
But it was not without struggles.
Starting with captain consistent, Jonathan Toews, who despite putting up nearly a point a game last year, only played in 59 games because of lingering affects of a concussion and a wrist injury the Blackhawks never had all cylinders firing in 2012. They ended up squeaking into the playoffs before being knocked out in six games by the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round. A large disappointment by the team’s new standards.
While it was clear the entire roster suffered from not having Toews’ team-defining leadership in the lineup, one player was affected more than the rest. Patrick Kane, who burst onto the NHL scene with four straight 70+ point seasons, had his worst season ever. Notching only 66 points in a full complement of games, Kane struggled to find his form leaving the Blackhawks essentially without their top two players.
The writing was on the wall.
But this season, with Toews’ healthy, ready for an entire season and back doing what he does best – everything – Patrick Kane has also returned to the superstar form which saw him score the Stanley Cup winning goal in 2010 and cement himself as one of the league’s best. Kane says wrist problems which hindered offseason training in 2011 are now behind him and have allowed him to start the season healthy. Many observers suggest his party-boy attitude is also behind him and has largely contributed to the turnaround. Most, however, would agree that Kane is back to playing the street hockey style game that made him successful in junior and eventually in the NHL.
That was clearly on display before the season even began when Kane scored this – some would say sick - shooutout goal on Corey Schneider during the lockout in the Swiss League:
With Kane and Toews already in peak form and players like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and the defensive tandem of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook all contributing Chicago looks as dangerous as ever. The additions of Jonny Oduya andBrandon Saad, with the emergence of Nick Leddy and the re-emergence of David Bolland make the Hawks an extremely deep team once again. And as a result they’re setting record left, right and centre.
The most important improvement may be between the pipes where Corey Crawford has shown some resolve after two consecutive premature playoff exits and a subpar 2011-2012 season. Crawford’s play out of the gates this season propelled the Hawks to their best start in franchise history. And as they continue along an historic path and what they hope is their second Stanley Cup since 2010, they will need Crawford and Ray Emery to continue their consistent play.
Most of all, the leaders – Toews, Kane, et al. – must continue to lead as they have been since the start of the season and since they had been since entering the league. The Blackhawks are once again one of the most feared teams in the league and the longer they continue on this torrid pace, the scarier they will get.