When the NHL lockout stretched into January, cutting into regular season play, many predicted that teams would struggle to regroup when they got back on the ice. The Chicago Blackhawks have certainly had no problem. Through their first 20 games, the Blackhawks posted a 17-0-3 record, establishing an NHL record for most games to open a season without a regulation loss.
In fact, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, the lockout may have been to the Blackhawks’ advantage.
“One of their best players, Marian Hossa, suffered a concussion last April and wasn’t cleared until almost Thanksgiving. And he comes back fully healthy at top conditioning levels because of all time off,” Lazerus explained. “And they had about the least roster turnover of any team in the league so everyone came back knowing the system, knowing Coach [Joel] Quenneville, what he demands, while other teams were trying to integrate guys into a new system with only five days of training camp.”
“So that’s how you get a start like this,” Lazerus continued. “I mean it was the perfect storm for the Blackhawks. The lockout couldn’t have gone any better for these guys.”
Also critical to the Blackhawks success has been the play of its two goaltenders—Corey Crawford (9-0-3) and Ray Emery (8-0-0). According to Lazerus, Crawford has been playing with a chip on his shoulder following Chicago’s first-round exit in the playoffs a season ago.
“He came back this season, he was motivated by that, wanted to get that taste out of his mouth, and he’s been phenomenal,” Lazerus said.
Backing up Crawford is Emery—who has been playing like anything but a backup.
“Kind of an afterthought coming in, just a backup, and he was named the NHL’s third star for the month of February,” said Lazerus of Emery, who boasts the league’s fifth-best save percentage—three spots behind Crawford.
On the offensive end, Patrick Kane has led the way, posting a team-best 10 goals and 14 assists.
“Patrick Kane right now might be the league MVP the way he’s playing,” Lazerus said. “Every time he has the puck something amazing happens. He’s doing these spin-o-ramas and these no-look passes and scoring left and right.”
But the Blackhawks have some difficult matchups on the horizon. On Sunday, the team visits the 10-8-3 Detroit Red Wings then hosts the 10-7-2 Minnesota Wild two days later.
“The schedule doesn’t get a whole lot easier moving forward,” Lazerus said. “Eventually this is going to have to stop.”