The Chicago Blackhawks are currently on a five-game win streak. This comes as somewhat of a pleasant surprise to fans as the team started out the season strong but then chugged along on shaky grounds. After a first round sweep by the Nashville Predators, the Blackhawks regrouped over the summer by trading some key assets to gain new ones.
A major problem for the Blackhawks in the playoffs was their inability to score goals, the most fundamental part of the game. Oddly enough, they won their first game of the season 10-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They went on to win against the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-1 in their next game. They had a few more strong games, but as the weeks went by, they started to play like an .500 team. It wasn’t until their last few wins that they popped back up in playoff standings. But now that they’re on this win streak, many question if this is the real identity of the team or if they really are a average team.
Their recent wins can be attributed to team chemistry. Coach Quenneville went through many line combinations this season, before finally settling on the current ones. Having these lines stay consistent over the last few games allowed players to get develop chemistry which in turn allowed all four lines for the team to start scoring.
For a while the lack of veteran scoring was a glaring issue for the team. The big names who were getting payed millions weren’t contributing enough while the fourth line along with Corey Crawford were the only consistent players. However, over the last stretch of games, players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith have excelled and proven their worth.
The win streak started when Corey Crawford was activated from IR after missing three games with a lower-body injury. In the last five games he’s only allowed seven goals and has maintained a solid .935 save percentage and 2.11 goals-against average. The streak also started when the Blackhawks recalled forward Vinnie Hinostroza from their AHL affiliate. Hinostroza did more than enough in the AHL to be called up and with 13 shots over five games (1 goal) on an average of 11 minutes of ice time, he’s proven he belongs in the NHL.
The Blackhawks defense has also stepped up as of late. Going into the season, with the loss of underrated Niklas Hjalmarsson and flourishing Trevor Van Riemsdyk, the team’s defense corps was looking weak. But as games went by it was evident that the new group of defensemen were anything but weak. Cody Franson has been a great addition to the team this season with 1 goal and 7 assists over 19 games, but unfortunately he was placed on IR on December 13. Jan Rutta, another reliable defenseman for the team was also injured. This allowed Jordan Oesterle and Michal Kempny to draw into the lineup after having sat out for 25 and 18 games respectively. They both proven themselves to be defensively and offensively responsible in the last few games. Both Franson and Rutta have been cleared to practice but with Oesterle and Kempny playing so well, it’s hard to say who will dress for the next game.
The Blackhawks cap the year off and start 2018 with six straight road games. While that could be daunting to many teams, it might not mean anything to the Blackhawks since they’re 10-5-2 at home and 7-6-3 away. They’re current win streak was created against below average teams as well as two playoff caliber teams. This next stretch of away games will be against an assortment of skilled teams.
It’s that time of the year when we’re nearing the halfway mark of the season, when watching the standings becomes a daily ritual. Every game is starting to mean something and the idea that two points can make or break a playoff spot weighs heavy on players and fans. The Blackhawks have had a dynasty like reign over the last seven years, with three cups and making the playoffs for seven seven straight seasons. Many believed this year to be when the team would fall, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Blackhawks over the years, it’s that they aren’t giving up without a fight.