CHICAGO – They haven't even played 10 games yet, so is it too early for the Chicago Blackhawks to take a peek at how the red hot Detroit Red Wings are doing?
"No, it's not," Hawks star forward Patrick Kane said following Chicago's morning skate Saturday, prior to playing the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center. "Starts are huge, especially in (the Western Conference). Last year, we didn't get off to a good start and it kind of cost us a little bit. This conference is so tough to get into the playoffs. It's definitely not too early to be looking over and seeing how they're doing and how other teams are doing in the West."
How are the Red Wings doing?
Well, they're a perfect 5-0-0 heading into a road game against the undefeated Washington Capitals on Saturday night – which ties Detroit's franchise record set in 1972.
The thing is, the Blackhawks are 4-1-1 themselves and right on the Red Wings' heels in the Central Division. Could this be an early foreshadowing of a nip-and-tuck division race between the two Original Six rivals?
The Hawks think so, and they have noticed how well Detroit has started off.
"You see them winning a lot of games and they're pretty dominant right now," Kane said. "It definitely makes you want to keep pace with them if not go past them. Detroit's always kind of been our (barometer) of how we're doing in the season and it'll probably stay that way this year."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville agreed.
"We played (Detroit) a couple times in the pre-season and you know with their personnel, they've got all the right ingredients and they know how to win and they're a good team and they're going to be a good team," Quenneville said. "You know they're going to be around, and it's going to be a competitive division, but we've still got to take care of our own business. I'm sure when we see them it will be an exciting game."
Especially if both teams remain close in the standings – last year, the Hawks were defending Stanley Cup champions and appeared to struggle with the short summer that accompanies the feat. They also had a lot of roster changes because of salary-cap problems and the new faces who were brought in took a while to settle into their roles.
As it turned out, the Hawks needed help just to make the playoff field as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. This year, Chicago again brought in a handful of new players -- but the new group seemingly fits right into what the Hawks' plans.
As a result, there seems to be more chemistry sooner and the Hawks' play on the ice is benefiting from it.
"Right now, you've got all your pieces in place," Quenneville said. "(Last year) everybody was initially looking for their place and it took too long for that group to maybe be comfortable in their roles or their areas where they were on the team. This year, it just seems like everybody is comfortable with where they're at."