What they're saying about the Blackhawks

Wednesday, 02.27.2013 / 6:00 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

The record jumps off the page.



In an era ripe with parity created by a salary-cap system that has helped crown seven different Stanley Cup champions and enabled 29 of the 30 teams to make the playoffs since 2006, the fact the Chicago Blackhawks still don't have a regulation loss this season defies what we have come to view as logic in the National Hockey League.

Yet winning, or at least pushing the game beyond 60 minutes, has become normal for the Blackhawks. It's almost expected of them.

Why is that? Why have the Blackhawks been able to do something at the start of a season that no other team in NHL history has done? Why are they entering Thursday's game at the St. Louis Blues with a chance to stretch their record for most consecutive games to start a season with a point to 20 games?

We asked around the League and got a variety of answers to the following question:

"What do you see when you watch the Blackhawks play?"

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock: "They don't give up easy ice anymore. You don't get odd-man rushes. You don't get lots of time in the offensive zone. There is no easy ice when you play them now. Every piece of the ice is contested.

"Last year, they played kind of a hybrid game where there was a lot more attacking going on and a lot more numbers on the attack, but it opened up odd-man rushes against. This year, they've lowered the risk and increased the wins. I think there is a great answer there. They play a very smart, manage-the-ice game.

"When you watch them play, every time you look there are five in the picture. And when there are five in the picture that leads to winning hockey."

NBC Sports Network analyst (former Blackhawks forward) Jeremy Roenick: "There is just so much.

"I think it's their whole team effort, the way that they work as a group, line after line. They roll four lines and they have constant pressure with four lines for mostly 60 minutes. It's an onslaught. You can even listen to coach [Joel] Quenneville [say], 'Our fourth line, if you want to call it our fourth line.'

"They feel they have one first line and three second lines. That's the mentality of that team now. Every line contributes. When you have wave after wave after wave of consistent, systematic play and hard work it grinds you down. That's what impresses me about Chicago.

"Their star players have been their best players every night. That's what you need to win. It flows right through the team. I mean, [with] how many teams in the NHL do you have to pick who the best player on the team is? Chicago has three or four players who you can argue is their best player. It's crazy.

"But, I think the biggest difference in this team this year is their goalies are focused and they're making the saves. You can't put a price on that."

NHL Network/CBC analyst Kevin Weekes: "The better question is what weakness do you see? Start there and work backwards. I see strength and depth at every position, and with that I see a balanced team, a three-zone team, a very skilled team with a lot of hockey sense, a high hockey IQ throughout the team. I see a hard-working team. Obviously they are very well coached and clearly very well managed both on and off the ice. I don't see a weakness.

"They're attacking with five offensively when they can and they attack with five defensively when they can. And they have an unbelievable goalie tandem. You put all those things together and I start with this question again, what weakness do they have?

"They're playing hard and it's not at the expense of their skill. They have allowed guys to be creative while still demanding them to be accountable."

San Jose Sharks general manager (former Blackhawks defenseman) Doug Wilson: "They're just on a roll. They're getting contributions all the way through the lineup. The game against us they got a goal from [Viktor] Stalberg, a goal from [Brandon] Saad, which was a shorthanded goal. They're getting contributions from both of their goalies, all their defensemen, all four of their lines. That's how you win in this League. It's got to be different people different nights. It's not just your high-end guys. You stick with your game plan but you have different contributors on different nights -- that's how they have accomplished this and they deserve full credit for it."

NBC analyst Pierre McGuire: "[I see] a team that is very well-coached. Their special teams have improved so much from last year, both on the power play and the penalty kill. Improvement of players -- Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy might be two of the most improved players in the League. Adept pro scouting -- getting Johnny Oduya for two draft picks is an unbelievable heist. [I see] a team that is four lines deep; they can score with any of their four lines. A team that plays with unbelievable energy; just watch their third period and overtime against Edmonton. A team that is just really comfortable in their own skin. There is not one fundamental flaw on that team right now, not one.

"So you can look at the whole thing there and say, 'This is a well-run organization with professional coaching, improved players, unbelievable depth' -- it's everything. They're really good."

TSN analyst Aaron Ward: "I think for me the first word that jumps out is 'standard.' These guys are the standard by which everyone else is measured.

"When you go to watch Chicago, you almost expect an up-and-down-the-ice game and you're rarely disappointed. They have the firepower. Why they were discounted coming into the season was the doubt about the goaltending. It was almost like a 'Yeah, but' situation. [People thought] Chicago is great, but the goaltending is not. This year you've got [Ray] Emery and [Corey] Crawford and they're lights out.

"It's also interesting to watch the mental aspect for this team and how they know, just like a Stanley Cup champion, that every time they go into a building everybody is bringing their best. So it's a mental challenge to be ready for their opponent. It's not just another game when Chicago comes to town -- it's the game. And they're handling it. It's amazing."

NHL Network/TSN analyst Craig Button: "The word that comes to my mind is 'complete.' I think they're a complete team.

"Much like their Stanley Cup team of 2010, their forward group is quick, they're fast and they're competitive. So they're always applying pressure on an opponent in so many ways. It can be [Marian] Hossa, [Patrick] Kane, [Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick] Sharp coming at you with pressure or Viktor Stalberg coming at you with speed, and he can check. Andrew Shaw comes at you with tenacity and a physical presence. Danny Carcillo, he's just back in the lineup, but he's that type of player that adds to your team. Same with Brandon Saad.

"When I see their team, I see a team that is really quick. Not just quick in their feet but quick in their mind. They recognize plays and understand, 'That's something I can take advantage of.' They have mind quickness. They have the ability to recognize what is going on. They're a smart team with smart players. Then they have the foot speed to take advantage.

"The Andrew Shaw goal, the winning goal the other night against Columbus, is the perfect example. He's on the boards, wins the battle against Nick Foligno. So there's your competitiveness. The puck goes down to Bryan Bickell below the goal line. He's a big strong guy and he's going to protect the puck. Andrew Shaw sees the defenseman turned and he takes the lane to the net. He recognizes opportunity. Then he's got the foot quickness to get there. He scores the only goal in the game, they win 1-0."

NBC Sports Network analyst Keith Jones: "The goaltending has been the biggest surprise, I guess, in the way they have both contributed consistently. That's one thing that has allowed this thing to continue as long as it has, and that really stands out to me. I thought that was their major question mark, in goal. And I did not think they'd be able to sustain it like they have.

"The third- and fourth-line guys that were replacements for the guys that helped them win the Stanley Cup have done a great job. Guys like Bickell and Shaw and Stalberg -- they're getting some timely goals. I wondered how quickly they could replenish that. They kept their star foundation, but they have just done a terrific job in finding guys to fill those other spots."

Los Angeles Kings assistant GM Ron Hextall: "It's pretty amazing. Twenty-five years ago with the Edmonton Oilers, that's one thing. But in this day and age of dilution and such a fine line between winning and losing, [going 16-0-3] is just phenomenal. It's a wonderful accomplishment for them and obviously gets them off to the type of start in a short season that you want."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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