With one game still to play before they reach the quarter mark of this shortened NHL season, the Chicago Blackhawks have yet to lose a game in regulation. They improved to 9-0-2 after smashing Phoenix 6-2 last night and will finish their 6-game road trip in Nashville on Sunday before heading home for 7 in a row at the Madhouse on Madison with the NHL's best record and most points (20). They've played in front of their home fans just twice thus far, which makes their run to start the season that much more impressive.
The Blackhawks boast the second highest goals per game in the league scoring just about 3.5 per, but that's not breaking news. Their high-powered offense is much more than the superstars that you expect to be lighting the lamp; Chicago is so deep that they're getting scoring from every line. Led by Bryan Bickell's 7, the Hawks' 3rd scoring line already has 18 points through 11 games. That's much more than you expect out of the traditional checking line. "It shows how much depth we have," Bickell said. "We just can't rely on the first two lines to get goals. For me, I just need to be physical and our line has been paying well and putting up points. And we've been winning which is the most important part."
A real Achilles heel of last year's team, which was exposed in the playoffs, was the play of special teams. A much scrutinized group has been rejuvenated this season with the help of new assistant coach Jamie Kompon. He spent 2011-12 helping the Los Angeles Kings capture the Stanley Cup and led their penalty kill unit to 4th in the league, stopping 87% of all opportunities short-handed. The Blackhawks have gone back to the basics and have only given up just 3 power play goals on 41 chances, good for first in the NHL at 92.7%.
On the other hand, their power play unit has shown improvement as well, though not as successful has the PK. The power play has been streaky, so the numbers don't tell the whole story. Through Thursday, the Hawks sit right in the middle of the pack (15th) with a 19.2% conversion rate. The good news is that they keep drawing penalties and giving themselves a chance. Chicago had 9 power plays in Phoenix last night, converting twice while holding a 5 on 3 advantage.
The real story, however, has been the play of both goaltenders. Corey Crawford is tied for the league lead with 6 wins and can be mentioned among the league leaders for goals allowed per game (6th) and save percentage (7th). Backup Ray Emery has bounced back after a bad first game; in a win at Calgary, he set new career highs for shots faced (47) and saves (45) and single-handedly kept the Blackhawks in the game long enough to force overtime. It's important for the Blackhawks to have both of their goaltenders playing at a high level, especially in a season where every point will count. Crawford and Emery have combined for 2.1 goals allowed per game and have the Hawks comfortably at 4th in the league for that category.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is pleased with his team's performance through this long stretch of road games to start the season. "We feel good right now; we've been playing well and we've been consistent in our games. We've gotten a lot of contributions from a lot of guys," he said. "The chemistry and mood of the room is as good as you can get [right now]."
The Blackhawks get two days off before returning to action Sunday night against their division rival Nashville Predators. It's a much deserved rest after a road trip where they earned 8 out of a possible 10 points in the standings.
Steve Peters is a staff writer for nhlfanchat.com. Follow on twitter: @stevepeters_ and @nhlfanchat