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Central Intelligence: Nov. 11, 2016

After a slow start, the Chicago Blackhawks are firing on all cylinders

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /'s Dan Myers takes a look around the Central Division in this week's installment of Central Intelligence:

After a slow start to the regular season, the Chicago Blackhawks have caught fire. 

Winners of seven straight games, the Blackhawks have pulled away in the Central Division standings, entering play Friday with a 10-3-1 record. Their 21 points lead the Division and the Western Conference.

Chicago won 2-1 over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, running its winning streak to seven games. The Blackhawks are 8-0-1 overall in its past nine games and are 7-1-1 at the United Center this season.

Still, the Blackhawks don't believe they've played their best.

"For sure, and I think that's a good sign," Jonathan Toews told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week. "I don't think anyone [even] realizes that we're on a little streak like that."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has said his team can get off to better starts, about the only thing that has gone wrong for his club over the last three weeks. 

Several times during their streak, Chicago has surrendered the first goal then rallied later in the game to get the victory. 

"I don't think you want to keep playing that way because you know it's not going to work like that for the long haul," Quenneville said. "Finding a way to play the right way from start to finish makes you effective."

While Patrick Kane has gotten off to a great start, including five goals and 17 points in 14 games, linemate Artem Anisimov has been just as good. His team-leading eight goals are nearly half of the total he had in 77 games last season (20), his first with Chicago.

Goaltender Corey Crawford has been outstanding as well, compiling a 7-3-1 record with a 1.91 goals-against average and a save percentage of .939.

"He's one of about six goalies in the league who get you talking about them," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, according to the Sun-Times. "That's the worst thing you can do, is have to start talking about where you need to place the puck to beat the goalie and all that stuff, because the game's so quick, you can't think like that. You just shoot. 

"And he's one of those guys … he's in that group where, quite frankly, you start talking about those guys. And then when you start talking about them, you start freezing. So we're not talking about him."

Blues struggling to score

St. Louis lost captain David Backes over the summer when he signed a free-agent deal with the Boston Bruins. The Blues acquired winger Nail Yakupov from Edmonton in a trade just before the season but the swap hasn't helped the slumping offense.

While St. Louis has scored five goals twice and six goals once, they've only scored 11 goals over six games in the month of November. Nearly half of those goals came in a 5-1 win over Colorado on Sunday. 

To compare, Chicago has eight players who have scored at least 10 points. The Blues have just three and have played one additional game.

Despite a 7-5-3 record, the Blues have a minus-6 goal differential. 

"I think after a while you start living on one goal, you're not going to win many games," Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch following a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday. 

Predators are streaking

The Predators, another team that got off to a bad start, are finally rolling.

Their win over the Blues on Thursday extended Nashville's point streak to five games. 

One of the big reasons for the streak has been goaltender Pekka Rinne. Once one of the League's elite goalies, Rinne hasn't been at that level in recent seasons, mostly because of injuries.

But over the past two weeks, Rinne has turned back the clock, compiling a goals against average just over one while stopping 95 percent of shots faced.

"He's an elite goaltender," Predators defenseman P.K. Subban told The Tennessean. "When he's on, he's on. He's been [on] all season. He's a big part of the team. We need him to be that way every night and he has been."

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