In this era of modern media, social and anti-social, there is still a place for basic communication, the simpler the better. So it was Sunday evening at the United Center when Andrew Shaw yelled for the puck late in the second period of a scoreless scrum. Bryan Bickell, face to the glass, obliged with a backhanded pass, and Shaw—who always plays like his pants are on fire—quickly deposited the puck into the net.
“Unbelievable,” gushed Shaw of the perfect feed. He can say that again, about the record. With a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks extended their ongoing record for best beginning ever to a National Hockey League season. They are 15-0-3, not only because of that lone score goal before 21,580 by the Pocket Pest, but an airtight effort by goalie Corey Crawford. Back from a four-game sabbatical, Crawford authored quite the array of upper- and lower-body saves, plus a few with the glove while exercising his boarding house reach.
Columbus was not blanked for lack of effort or chances. Derick Brassard, for one, teed it up on several occasions, all for naught. Crawford’s opposing masked man, Steve Mason, was similarly effective and also occasionally fortunate. The Blue Jackets skated for 10 minutes worth of power plays, but the Blackhawks were in a killing mood, a staple of this amazing string. Crawford raved about the tidiness in front of him, but he earned the game’s first star for a reason.
“They’re deep and they play at a tremendous pace, which is the way our game is now—better than ever, I believe,” said Hall of Famer John Davidson, president of hockey operations for the Blue Jackets. “Their best players are the hardest workers, they are extremely well-coached, and the fans here have gotten to see some of their stars grow up before their eyes. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith…they came up through the system to be Blackhawks. And obviously, they’ve drafted well.”
Davidson doesn’t pay much attention to a theory that the Blackhawks aren’t tough enough.
“It’s a fast game, faster than ever, but still very physical,” Davidson went on. “But I don’t see them getting pushed around. They have good size. They have some big guys. Looking at their record, I’d say they’re doing OK, don’t you think?”
Despite their record start—can we call it hockey’s greatest generation?—the Blackhawks are just past the halfway mark for the all-time unbeaten streak fashioned by the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers, who went 35 games mid-season without a loss (25 victories, 10 ties). Those Flyers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, but fell to the New York Islanders, who were building a dynasty. Those Islanders won three more Cups in a row under coach Al Arbour, a former Blackhawks defenseman.
The Edmonton Oilers, whose coaches were in the building Sunday night, will finish the seven-game homestand Monday night. A couple of high-profile writers from Canada also attended. And Shaw was whisked away shortly after the game to appear live on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
“I think it’s only radio,” said Shaw. “I have a face for radio.”
No, it was television. The Blackhawks are becoming a national story, not that you could tell by their locker room. Very business-like. It’s as though they just opened a new account, closed another sale or went to the bank to withdraw two more points.
“This is a lot of fun,” concluded Crawford. Nobody’s raising his voice, except when the occasion demands.