Backes NAL

David Backes is Ready for the Weekend.. are YOU?

Got that Friday feeling?  Good, us too. The Blackhawks are heading into the weekend after a run of three games where they scored at least six goals (and also won by at least four). The mood around Hawks Nation is positively buoyant, after a brief outbreak of DOOM folowing Corey Crawford’s injury. It’s going to be a busy weekend after a few days off; first a trip to the ACC to play the slumping Leafs, a game that, while it will lack the ferocity of the old Norris Division days, is always one to circle on the calendar. The following night sees one of the Western Conference’s genuine powerhouses, the Kings, roll into town for the first time this season. LA have gotten over their usual slow start and are rumbling up the standings on the back of a five-game winning streak.

I won’t go to much into the upcoming games, as each warrants its own preview; instead here are five thoughts that are rattling around in what passes for my brain after the last week of Chicago Hockey. Feel free to debate, debunk & demolish in the comments. You can also call me a ‘Thundering Flangehead’ if you like.

 

1) Goals Are Fun!

The Hawks have won their three games this week by scores of 6-2 ,6-2 & 7-2, adding a whopping 13 to their Goal Differential column in the standings. It’s now leapt up to +36, tied for best in the League with St Louis (who have games in hand: more of that shortly) and a good 15 ahead of WC second-placed Anaheim, who have also played 34 games. These blowouts, aside from being good for the soul, are also adding to the 4th Tiebreaker in the determination of standings. I’ve always scoffed at people who moan about teams “Running up the Score” (hello Alain Vigneault & Don Cherry!): the day I’ll consider it rude is the day that the NHL stops using Goal Diff as a vital statistic.

The West is going to be tight as hell this year, and every little advantage that can be seized should be grabbed with both hands.

As my esteemed colleage JesusMarianHossa pointed out on Twitter:

The Chicago Blackhawks have played 34 hockey games this year. In 14 of them (FOURTEEN!) they have scored at least five goals. That’s over 40% of their games! OK. So since November 1st, the Blackhawks are averaging exactly 4.20 goals per game. You’ve basically needed to score five goals to win. Against teams with a current positive goal differential, Chicago is averaging, AVERAGING 4.76 goals per game.

While the Goals Against situation may be a lot shakier than it was last year, while the Hawks are blowing people away like this, the effect is mitigated.  Which leads us to ..

 

2) You Get A Goal, And You Get A Goal And You..

.. Everyone gets a goal!

As of this writing six different Hawks players have 10+ Goals this season. Those six players (Kane, Toews, Sharp, Saad, Shaw & Hossa) account for 79 goals betwen them, which is 61% of the Hawks 129 total GF.  The Ducks, as an example, have 3 players +10, as do the Penguins.  The advantage of this is obvious: it’s almost impossible to shut down the Hawks. Throw your best blue-liners and checkers against the Red Wedding Line? Kane & Saad will run riot. Try to match up your top six against the Hawks? Say hello to the 3rd

and 4th lines who are getting plenty of goals themselves.

This sort of depth scoring is the stuff of dreams. Even the D-men are getting involved: Duncan Keith is currently 3rd in the NHL in Assists, sandwiched between some guy called Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane.  10% of the top-30-scoring D-Men are Hawks. Hell, even Niklas Hjalmarsson, as Defensive a Defenseman as you’ll get, has more points than either Scott Hartnell or Dustin Brown this year.

 

3) The Kid Is Alright

When Corey Crawford went down the other night a lot of people lost their minds. Some were screaming about Carter Hutton being traded, some wanted Stan to call Philly about Ray Emery and others mentioned Jose Theodore (not a terrible idea) and even Rick DiPietro (a terrible idea). Instead, Antti Raanta has done well in his first gig in the NHL. Sure, there’s a lot of rough edges to his play and he’s betraying a lot of Euro-Goalie tics when he tries to play the puck. He’s also got almost the exact opposite style and demeanour to Crawford, no more obvious than when facing down a breakaway or shootout attempt, where he looks like a rabbit in the headlights. But he’s learning really fast before our eyes and there’s even a touch of swagger starting to come in to his play, as seen when he stopped two 1-on-1 shorthanded attempts in rapid succession against the Flyers.

He’s doing fine, although the Hawks bunging in goals at will helps to keep the pressure off him. I expect him to start both games this weekend, unless he gets absolutely murdered in Toronto. I said, in a Q&A with Defending Big D prior to the Dallas game, that the Hawks are good enough to survive a couple of weeks with untested or subpar goaltending. That remains true, but the big test is going to be the arrival of several tons of Kings forwards into Raanta’s crease on Sunday.

 

4) The PK Is Still Terrible

We were lulled into a false sense of security when the PK went 11-0 against the 29th & 30th ranked PP teams. That went crashing back to earth when the 18th place Flyers scored on two man-advantages in a row. As others have observed, it’s not the absence of Michael Frolik as much as its the 1-1-2 set up that the Hawks are using. This is reminiscent of the tail end of last season when the Hawks let Slaya Voynov and, later. Zdeno Chara tee up shots from the point area.  It’s strange and confusing and leads back to Q. He (or one of the Assistants) has some view of how the PK should be working and they’re going to stick with it, whatever happens. It’s basically this year’s version of “Backdoor Pass To Sharpie On the PP” and every team in the league has studied it.

The PK worked well last year when every opposition player had to deal with a wild-eyed Hawk bearing down on them, completely equipped to strip the puck and hurtle off the other way. Or, to put it in other words: less Bollig, more Sharp & Versteeg on the kill, please, Joel.

 

5) Rearviewmirror

Seems like every season there’s one contending team who has a whole pile of games in hand at this time of the year. It was the Sharks last time out, if I remember correctly. In 2013/14 it’s the Blues. They currently sit at 2nd in Conference III and 5th in the West with 45 points. They have, however, played four fewer games than Chicago & Anaheim and two fewer than San Jose & LA. Their Goal Diff, as mentioned above, is tied with the Hawks. So, yes, the Hawks dominance has a small asterisk beside it.

That said, they actually have to win those games and even sweeping all four would only put them a point ahead of the Hawks. Also, that sort of light schedule thus far means some fixture congestion approaching fast for the Blues. So I’m not that worried about them. I know John Jackass was soiling his undies the other day about the fact that the Hawks haven’t beaten either St Louis or Colorado this year. I could not give a flying fuck at the Moooon. We’ve got both of those swine in a back-to-back at the end of the Month: winning those games would be a stamp on the face of both those team’s ambitions.. but losing and still being top of the League? Well, I’d take that, too.

 

These are Great Days, my friends. We’ll have full previews, recaps and whatever else pops into our fevered brains for you over the weekend. Just get through Friday in one piece, OK?