19 and counting: Chicago extends The Streak
When the Oilers rolled into town, the Blackhawks remembered last season: Edmonton embarassing Chicago 9-2 and again 8-4, both on Rexall Place ice, and a 4-3 loss on United Center ice.
But even the hot young powerhouses of the up-n-coming Oilers couldn't hold the Blackhawks back from a win, and Edmonton was the one taking a 3-2 loss at the end of the night.
Edmonton's Jeff Petry opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal 4:28 into the first; the Blackhawks replied barely a minute later with a beauty of a Patrick Kane backhand on the power play. The game would remain tied 1-1 until late in the second, when rookie Nail Yakupov put one in to give the Oilers the lead, also on a power play. Viktor Stalberg scored the first even-handed goal of the night 2:24 into the third to tie things up.
As the clock ticked down to the final seconds of the third, the crowd rose to their feet and applauded the Blackhawks extending their streak, which now stands at 19 games. But the players weren't content with just one point: a play by Patrick Sharp drew Edmonton's players away from the net, leaving Marian Hossa to battle it out with Nikolai Khabibulin for the winning point.
Oilers coach Ralph Krueger felt it was good to take a point away from the Blackhawks, even though Chicago took the win. He called Chicago "an amazingly powerful team", saying they're "very, very strong on the puck. They never let up at all."
That has been Chicago's story all season long: their tenacity. If there's a way for the Blackhawks to win, they've done it this season, or at the very least, pick up an OT point -- collecting 35 out of a possible 38 points so far. Even in games where the Blackhawks aren't putting in their best effort, they're still coming away with wins.
It's a major change from last season. Gone are the "one-and-done" shots that were far too common last year; replaced by players crashing the net and looking for juicy rebounds. They're setting up camp in front of opposing goalies and getting their noses dirty to make goals happen.
Gone is the cherry-picking Patrick Kane who lingered on the blue line, looking for a breakaway pass; replacing him is a powerhouse Kane who clearly is out to prove something to the league and himself.
Shotblocking is a dedication across the team; the only player without at least one block so far is Daniel Carcillo, who has played just 4 games so far. In fact, Niklas Hjalmarsson is tied for 5th and Brent Seabrook tied for 6th in the league for blocked shots.
Contributions are coming in from all 4 forward lines, and the three defensive pairs have their TOI much more evenly split. The team doesn't deflate when they're down a goal or two; they fight and claw their way back.
Can they still play pretty? Absolutely. But instead of looking for flashy or "perfect" plays, the team is instead focused on keeping things simple, and that is what has been most effective.
The 2013 Blackhawks are deep in a way that the 2009-2010 Blackhawks were. The core is the same, although the role players and "character" players are different. They have not just a solid starter goalie, but a hot goalie tandem.
Of course, the team is well aware that streak will eventually come to an end, whether it's the next game or down the road. In the meantime, the Blackhawks are hungry to keep winning, to keep collecting points. They're focusing on one game at a time, leaving it to the fans and media to gaze down the road and speculate about the post-season.
* * *
Final score: Blackhawks 3, OIlers 2 (overtime)
CHI goals: Patrick Kane, Viktor Stalberg, Marian Hossa (GWG)
Oilers goals: Jeff Petry, Nail Yakupov
3) Nail Yakupov
2) Patrick Kane
1) Marian Hossa
Winning goalie: Ray Emery
Losing goalie: Nikolai Khabibulin
Next game: Thur. 2/28 at St. Louis; Fri. 3/1 vs. Columbus