With the only four-win team in the Western Conference heading into the second week of the 2012-13 NHL season, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville isn't overlooking the importance of his club's quick start.
Chicago opened the season with three wins against teams that played in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including the Phoenix Coyotes, who eliminated the Blackhawks in the opening round. Then Thursday, the Blackhawks came from two goals down to defeat the Dallas Stars, 3-2, in overtime.
At 4-0-0, the Blackhawks are off to their best start since the 1972-73 season.
Quenneville said he saw the team with an extra jump almost from the start of training camp.
"I found their first four or five days on the ice was remarkable. Nobody looked out of shape," Quenneville told NHL.com heading into Saturday's game at the Columbus Blue Jackets. "It's been a nice fit, a good four-line rotation right now, and the guys have a lot of enthusiasm. We have a very tough schedule and we know the importance of starts to the season and starts to games. Everybody is feeling a part of it and contributing."
According to Quenneville, that depth has been key early this season. The Blackhawks made barely any additions to their roster during the offseason, so their core remained intact. That familiarity has made life much easier for the man behind the bench.
"We have our so-called third and fourth lines playing against anybody," said Quenneville, who added that one of his goals this season is to reduce the pressure on his star players. "In the past, that was probably a stricter and a tighter matchup for us. It helps take minutes away from our top guys, one or two a game. Over the course of the season, that's going to be valuable at critical times. We don't want these guys to absorb all the responsibility of our team success. I think getting other guys to contribute and add to that mix is something we're looking to inject this year. We feel we're getting some nice complementary work from across the board."
That's not to say Chicago's stars haven't helped. Marian Hossa, who scored the overtime goal in Dallas on Thursday, is among the League leaders with five goals, and Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane rank among the NHL's points leaders.
As in seasons past, it's been Kane and captain Jonathan Toews who have led the team. Quenneville is quick to laud the two faces of his franchise, particularly Kane, who arguably has been the team's best player this season.
"I think they've both shown progress every year in their development, as people and as hockey players," Quenneville said. "Kaner has a real nice focus. You can see there's a real commitment to being the best he can be every time he hits the ice. His attitude is in the right place. This season is like the playoffs right from game one. The games are very meaningful. You know if you put yourself in the right place with a great start, it puts you in a better place down the stretch."
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