The Detroit Red Wings set a NHL-record 23 consecutive wins on home ice, earlier this season but have dropped three of their last four at Joe Louis Arena. The latest loss was at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks who have now won three straight, two on the road. Chicago has been searching for answers after a dreadful 9-game losing streak and appear to have found their stride while without their Captain, Jonathan Toews.
Much credit can be given to Ray Emery who has stepped up and taken crease from Corey Crawford, for now, and overall better play defensively. During this three-game win streak, Emery has stopped 71 of 74 shots (.959%) and allowed no more than one goal in each game. The 'Hawks have needed improvement from their net minders and Emery has answered the call and it appears to be his job to lose. After being pulled in back-to-back starts, Crawford understands why. "I think it was the right move,” he said. “Wasn’t prepared for that [game]. I didn’t come up with the key save at the right time. I don’t know how to explain that. I want to be better for our guys. No matter what the situation is. I have to find a way to come up with some saves.”
Also factoring in the Blackhawks' resurgence is the improved defense. They acquired defenseman Johnny Oduya at the trade deadline and after getting the jitters out during a bad performance in his first period as a Blackhawk (on the ice for 3 goals against), he has settled in nicely and does exactly what is needed of him. "Johnny has really helped us out," Coach Joel Quenneville said after Sunday's win. "In the three games he's been here, it seems like there's composure there [on the blue line]." Chicago's defense has stifled their opponents for just 50 shots in the last two games after allowing 34 and 38 the two games prior.
Through the absence of Toews has emerged an unexpected leader: Patrick Kane. Not normally known for his leadership or maturity, Kane has been forced to take on the role of veteran as well as playmaker. He netted the game winner at Detroit and has scored three goals over his last 4 games. Kane seems to have found a comfort zone since being back at the center position.
The Blackhawks have also been putting in extra work on special teams, admittedly another weak area, and have already seen results. They have successfully killed off nine of their last 11 power plays including the last seven consecutively and also netted one power play goal in three of the last four games.
Chicago is now 3-0-2 against Detroit this year and each game has been decided by just one goal. It's beneficial to play these types of high intensity, rivalry games down the stretch because they create such a great playoff atmosphere; something the Blackhawks had better start getting ready for. If they continue to play at such a high level, they might be a dark horse in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; many times the team that goes in on a hot streak is the team that comes out on top.
The Blackhawks face one more considerable, playoff-type road test in St. Louis on Tuesday night before returning to the United Center for their longest home stand over the stretch run, three games.
We're about to find out if they've finally turned the corner.
Steve Peters is a staff writer for NHLfanchat.com. Follow on twitter: @stevepeters_