Chicago Blackhawks Lead Central Division but Face Big Tests Ahead

Corey Crawford
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 05: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks makes a save against the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center on January 5, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Chicago Blackhawks lead the Central Division with a record of 4-1-1. They have been strong on the road and steady at home. Brandon Saad and Corey Crawford have been outstanding. However, the Hawks next two games will be big tests for the team.

Blackhawks Early Road Success

The Blackhawks first road trip was to Toronto and then Montreal. After playing from behind most of the night, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Hawks and backup goalie Anton Forsberg 4-3 in overtime. The Blackhawks second stop was in Montreal. The Montreal Canadians were hosting their 2017 home opener against longtime rival Chicago. Hometown boy Corey Crawford was back in the net for the Blackhawks and led them to a 3-1 victory.

The Hawks played well in both games, but Toronto took their play to another level in the second half of that game. The quicker Leafs were a step ahead of the Hawks and swarmed them out-shooting Chicago 43-21 on the night. The Hawks will need to improve their speed game on the road this season if they plan to top last year’s 24 road wins.

Blackhawks Home Ice Domination

The Blackhawks are 3-1 at home, and at times have been dominant. They have scored 19 goals and given up only 8 goals against in four home games. The Hawks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators, and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Hawks only loss was to their division rival the Minnesota Wild. The Wild beat them for their first victory of the year 5-2.

The Blackhawks will need to continue dominating at home in order to have a successful 2017 season. Last year they were 26-10-5 at home, which helped propel them to the best record in the Western Conference.

Key Player Performances

With all the changes made to the Hawks lineup, it was an open question how well the team could come together and find success on the ice. Some suggested it would be a challenge for them to duplicate their regular season success of last season. So far, those concerns seem mistaken. The Blackhawks have been propelled thus far by the play of key players.

Corey Crawford Is On fire

Corey Crawford’s start to the young season has been incredible. His record is 4-1, with only 7 goals against so far. His goals-against average is 1.39, and his save percentage is a scintillating .960%. Both are number one in the NHL at this point in the season. Crawford is playing at an elite level and will be expected to carry the load this year. Anton Forsberg has played only once so far, suffering the O.T. loss in Toronto.

Welcome Back Brandon Saad

Brandon Saad’s return to Chicago in the offseason brought about a lot of cheers from fans who were sad to see him traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. His play on the 1st line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik has been extremely successful through six games. Saad has 6 goals on the year, tied for 3rd in the NHL. He also leads the Hawks in shots on goal with 26. Saad’s continued strong play will help improve the games of Toews and Panik on the first line. They both have 6 points so far this season, which is tied for second on the Hawks.

Nick Schmaltz Injury Status

Blackhawks center Nick Schmaltz has been out due to an injury suffered against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Hawks second game. His absence has been noticeable and has affected the second line’s offensive ability. Artem Anisimov and Tanner Kero have centered the second line with Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman since Schmaltz was injured. Kero brings a bit more speed to the line than Anisimov, but its obvious Kane can’t wait for Schmaltz to return. For more on this check out this piece by Tracey Myers for NBC Sports Chicago.

Big Tests Ahead

The Blackhawks face their division nemesis the St. Louis Blues tonight in St. Louis. This huge road test will also feature the return of Eddie Olczyk to the broadcast booth. He will also be part of the broadcast for the Hawks next big game against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. Olczyk is currently undergoing treatment for colon cancer. He hopes to work some games as he continues his treatment. His return to broadcasting will make NHL fans around the league very happy.

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