If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, that new team just so happens to be the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down Chicago’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook.
So, Monday we took a look at the additions to the Blackhawks’ roster and yesterday we took a look at the key subtractions. What’s next, multiplication? I kid, I kid.
Today, we’re going to take a look at what makes the Chicago Blackhawks so good. What are their strengths? If you read yesterday’s article–again, shame on you if you haven’t–you no doubt noticed this statement at the bottom:
Chicago has been able to get by, not because of impressive goaltending, but exceptional offense and defense, and above-average goaltending.
It’s a bold statement from the outside looking in, but take a look at Chicago’s goaltending the past few years. Niemi was traded after leading the Blackhawks to the Cup in his rookie campaign. Crawford hadn’t really put things together until last year–a lockout-shortened season that saw goalies playing fewer games and Ray Emery as the league’s best backup. Believe me, until the playoffs rolled around, Crawford didn’t have to be the man for Chicago–he just had to be better than average. But we’ll save this rabbit trail for tomorrow.
The reason Chicago has been so good is their immensely talented forward corps and exceptional defense. Last season, there was no “top-6″ and “bottom-6″ in Chi-town, it was simply a team that could roll four lines at any time in any situation. Other teams were so focused on shutting down Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad, they weren’t looking out for Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg (now with Nashville), Andrew Shaw, Dave Bolland and Marcus Kruger. They were intense, they were physical and they were out there to get the other team off their game. Oh, and they could occasionally put the biscuit in the basket, too.
Now take a look at their defensive corps and it’s easy to see why Crawford and Emery weren’t given anything they couldn’t handle. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy (groan), Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson–it makes me sick. Not only are they one of the best shot-blocking teams in the league, but they can chip in on the offense, as well. It’s one thing to shut down a team’s top forwards, but to shut down the scoring from the blue line is another thing entirely, and Chicago used that to their advantage on so many occasions last year in both the regular season and the playoffs.
Case in point, remember the first home playoff game at the Xcel Energy Center since the Bush Administration? Yeah, the only game Minnesota won in that series? Minnesota did a great job neutralizing Kane, Hossa, Sharp and Toews, but it was Oduya, and then Keith, that would force the extra session. Both of them came from the high slot above all the traffic around and in front of Josh Harding. There was literally nothing he could have done about either of those goals.
So, what makes Chicago so good? In short, they’re deep, extremely talented and are a team that has no problem playing either side of the puck. But good luck getting on the offensive side of that vulcanized rubber.