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Between the Dots: Blackhawks playing, winning at top speed

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Photo by Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks

It is as though every team in the National Hockey League is observing a speed limit except the Blackhawks. They are not only moving their feet faster, they are moving the puck quicker, and you can take that from a man wearing a shiny Stanley Cup ring.

“They have five defensemen who are top three on any other roster,” said coach Darryl Sutter after the Blackhawks beat his defending champion Los Angeles Kings, 3-2, at the United Center Sunday. “That’s where it all starts for them, I believe. The back end. Those guys are mobile and smart and they’re healthy. It’s not just Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. What about that kid Nick Leddy? And Niklas Hjalmarsson. Very deep.”

With the victory, the Blackhawks tied the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers for the second best takeoff in league history. The Blackhawks are 12-0-3 and chasing the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, who began their season 12-0-4. The Blackhawks could match that here Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks. Or, the Blackhawks could surpass that Tuesday night with a win.

The Blackhawks, restricted to four goals in four games against the Kings last year, boosted their haul this season to eight in two games thusly: Seabrook found a virtually open net behind the stickless Jonathan Quick in the seventh minute; Jonathan Toews finished off his own creation on a power play after the Kings were called for too many men on the ice, a whistle that infuriated Sutter; then early in the middle period, Patrick Sharp tallied as the Kings played it loose in their own end.

Mike Richards clicked for two power play goals in the third period, but undefeated Ray Emery yielded no more. When you are discussing depth, especially during a compressed schedule such as this year’s, goalkeeping is of paramount significance. It is nice to have four lines, and it is nice to have all those blue chippers on the blue line, but to possess two goalies who can handle the grind is huge. Corey Crawford is out, Emery is 5-0 and counting.

“I like to be needed,” said Emery.

The Blackhawks have had two previous 15-game unbeaten streaks in franchise history, both before the modern math. In 1967, they went on a 12-0-3 binge, those three being ties. In 1975, they went 6-0-9 for a stretch. The 1967 streak resulted in 27 points, the latter in 21. This team has three non-regulation defeats, but under the system, they are not pointless, so this 15-game spree has yielded 27 points.

“And not only are they strong on defense,” Sutter went on. “Their captain, Toews, is at the top of his game. I mean, he just killed us on faceoffs today. It seemed like every time I looked up, Toews was winning a faceoff. Didn’t think their first goal should have happened. Our goalie didn’t have his stick. But…”

The former Blackhawk player and coach paused.

“Are they the best team we’ve seen so far?” Sutter said. “Oh, yeah. Easy.”

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