Tonight sees the Blackhawks returning to action, after a three-day break over the Festive Period, with the first of three tricky games in four nights. First up the Colorado Avalanche, former Western Conference high-flyers and still a formidable opponent, come to the UC; then Saturday sees a short trip to the Scottrade to take on another heavyweight in the St Louis Blues. There will then be a Sunday “Break” where we get to chew our fingers to the bone over Bears/Packers before the Los Angeles Kings make their second trip to West Madison. All three of these games are against Western Conference contenders of one stripe or another and all three will present stiff challenges to be surmounted.
However, of late, I’ve noticed a trend starting to develop both in mainstream media reporting and among the Hawks blog community where the fact that Chicago have, thus far, failed to beat St Louis or Colorado means that this team has yet to “Prove” itself. John Jaeckel of Hockeybuzz.com got this particular ball of nonsense rolling back on Dec 1st, coming off the 6-1 Circus Trip by focussing on the “1″ and worrying aloud about the Blues & Avs. Yesterday we saw a preview from the normally rock-steady Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times that also frets about the Hawks “Pedestrian” 8-6-1 against the Central Divison. Finally, last night, there was a blog entry from Blackhawk Up that was posted as “Blackhawks’ Season on the Line This Weekend” and repeats the familiar theme that “I still think the Hawks have a good deal to prove this season, and their biggest test of the year will occur this weekend”
Now, it’s hard to use previous years’ statistics to prove or disprove the importance of Intra-Division results due to a Lockout-shortened season and the changes to Divisional alignment and Playoff seedings that came into effect this time out. Likewise, how Regular Season series effect Postseason matchups. Obviously, with Divisonal Playoffs this season, the “Four Point”games have a great deal more significance, especially against the teams ranked 2nd & 3rd in the Central.
But lets not start panicking yet, hey? The Hawks are 0-1-1 against the Blues and 0-1-0 against the Avs. Three games. Both the games gainst the Blues were as tight as can be, one decided by a breakaway goal in the final minute, the other in the Shootout. The Avs game was a blowout from start to finish, but should rightly be regarded as an aberration (like the similar cockups against the Preds & Leafs). This sample size is far, far too small to be deducing anything yet.
Sure, StL are 10-0-1 against the Central but that’s a statistical freak that no other team in the West is even close to (Anaheim’s 7-0-2 in the Pacific is nearest). St Louis have also played four fewer Central games than Chicago and three fewer than the 9-4-1 Colorado. They’ve only played Dallas & Minnesota once each.
Of course, beating these teams is going to make a passage to Home Ice in the playoffs that bit easier, but to suggest that this team is faltering in its defense of the Cup because it hasn’t beaten two very, very good Hockey teams yet is asinine. Even worse is the implication that a regular Season series means anything other than jack and shit when the Playoffs roll around. Remember sweeping Detroit 4-0-0 last year including that 7-1 laugher at the Joe? Stopped shaking after that Game 7 yet? Me either.
I’m all about winning these games, for sure.. but no-one should be reaching for the strychnine if the Hawks lose one or both, either. There is no “Statement” to be made here. There are four points to be had against Division rivals (and four denied those same teams, yes) and that’s the only thing that matters. These Narratives provide for easy, lazy topics to write about and that’s a boon when faced with a team doing (almost) everything right.
This weekend is what it is, a tough trio of games in December against powerhouse Conference rivals. What it isn’t is a marker for how the rest of this Cup Defense is going to go.
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