We are just three games into the 2013-14 season and with a 1-1-1 record the Chicago Blackhawks have plenty of hockey to iron out some kinks in their game. Wednesday night marked the first real test for the Blackhawks, taking on rival St. Louis in a battle of what should be two of the top teams in the west. Despite the frustrating last minute loss the Blackhawks have a few things to build upon heading into this weekend’s first set of back to back games for the Blackhawks.
This game marked the second straight game the Blackhawks have blown a late lead, only this time they did not earn the extra point. Playing a divisional rival like St. Louis only added more emphasis to the game, which already had a playoff like tempo. As the defending cup champions you can bet every team will play harder against the Chicago Blackhawks using them as a benchmark to their own success, Tampa Bay demonstrated this with their third period comeback victory last Saturday.
Despite the late goal by Alex Steen, Corey Crawford played a much better game against St. Louis. Crawford faced 34 shots making 31 saves. After posting a .875 sv % in his first two starts he stepped up his game and returned to a much more respectable save % of .912. Crawford is a mentally tough player who doesn’t let bad games or weak goals affect him, expect him to be one of the Blackhawks best players this weekend helping them get back into the win column.
The big guns for the Blackhawks are beginning to heat up, led by Patrick Kane with goals in all three games this season, the top 6 group for Chicago have the ability to dominate puck possession and overwhelm opponents with their speed and crisp passing. The powerplay, which has been an area of frustration for the Blackhawks started clicking Wednesday night, hopefully the start to a long trend of powerplay success.
The Blackhawks are feeling the loss of Frolik on the penalty kill and the loss of Dave Bolland in the faceoff circle. Marcus Kruger has struggled in the dot going 17/39 through the first 3 games of the season, leaving much of the burden of winning draws once again on Toews shoulders. The off-season moves opened up an opportunity for Brandon Bollig to establish himself as a reliable 4th line player, scoring his first NHL goal last week he has proven a reliable physical force capable of playing 9-12 minutes a night.
Playing back to back nights there is a good chance Nikolai Khabibulin make his first start as a Blackhawk since 2009. Khabibulin went 4-6-1 last season with a .923 save percentage. (UPDATE: It appears as Khabibulin will start Friday against the NYI reported by Tracey Myers)
Coming off one of the shortest off seasons in modern professional sports will obviously present the Blackhawks some challenges with consistency and fatigue. With a leadership group and skilled and decorated as the one the Blackhawks have they should be able to overcome the early season struggles. With 79 games to go it’s time to put that panic button away and have some confidence in the defending Stanley Cup champions.