Blackhawks' season-opening run hasn't been easy

Friday, 02.22.2013 / 4:14 PM
John Kreiser  - NHL.com Columnist

The Chicago Blackhawks will take the ice against San Jose on Friday night hoping to eclipse the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks when it comes to most games from the start of a season earning at least one point.

The Hawks enter the night tied with the Ducks of six years ago, having earned at least one point in each of their first 16 games. They passed the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers' season-opening run of 15 straight games (12 wins, 3 ties) with a 4-3 shootout win against Vancouver; that came two days after a 3-2 win against Los Angeles moved them past the '43-44 Montreal Canadiens (14 games; 11 wins, 3 ties).

But while the Blackhawks' 13-0-3 mark includes two overtime wins and a 2-3 mark in shootouts, it's not unfair to say that their season-opening run has been the most difficult of the four.

To start with, the Hawks played 10 of their first 12 games on the road (they were 8-0-2) before coming back to the United Center for a seven-game homestand. In contrast, Anaheim had 10 of its 16 games at home (7-0-3), Edmonton played eight of its 15 games at the building now known as Rexall Place (7-0-1) and the wartime Canadiens went 8-0-1 while playing nine of 14 at the Forum. Chicago's schedule included two trips to California, each of which also included a stop in Phoenix, as well as a two-game journey through Western Canada.

The Blackhawks have walked a lot of tightropes. Ten of their 16 games have been one-goal contests, including seven that went past regulation -- they are 2-0 in OT and 2-3 in shootouts. Anaheim also had 10 one-goal games, seven of which weren't decided in regulation. In contrast, Edmonton played just two one-goal games (and three ties), while Montreal had only one game decided by a single goal (plus three ties).

Chicago has been doing it with defense. The Blackhawks have scored just 53 non-shootout goals in their 16 games, but they've allowed only 31 -- and their goal differential of plus-22 is the smallest of any of the four fastest starters. Anaheim was plus-24 (59-35), while the Oilers were plus-43 (81-38) and the '43-44 Canadiens were plus-42 (69-27). Though they've surrendered less than two goals a game, the Blackhawks have just one shutout; Anaheim had three, Edmonton didn't have any and the Canadiens of seven decades ago also had one.

The Blackhawks have managed five or more goals in only four of their 16 games, the same as the '06-07 Ducks. In contrast, the '84-85 Oilers scored five or more goals in nine games (and seven or more in seven of those), while the Canadiens had five or more goals eight times. Not surprisingly, the Hawks have been involved in just four games decided by three or more goals; the 2006-07 Ducks had five, the '84-85 Oilers had seven and the '43-44 Canadiens captured eight of their 11 victories by at least three goals.

Perhaps the best sign for the Blackhawks as they prepare for Friday's game is that none of the four teams had their streaks snapped at home. Anaheim lost 3-0 at Calgary in its 17th game; Edmonton's streak ended with a 7-5 loss at Philadelphia and the Canadiens dropped a 4-3 decision at Boston. The other good omen the Hawks are hoping for comes later -- the first three teams to get points in at least their first 14 games all won the Stanley Cup.

Stringing them along -- The Blackhawks ended the 2011-12 regular season by going 3-0-3, meaning that they enter Friday's game with a 22-game streak (16-0-6) of getting at least one point. Prior to this season, the last time a team had gotten points in 21 or more games was in 1980, when Montreal had 15 wins and six ties.

Chicago's next target is the 1977-78 Canadiens, who went 23-0-5 during a 28-game streak. The record is held by the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers, who got points in 35 consecutive games (25 wins, 10 ties).

Ruff times in Buffalo -- The Sabres took the ice in Toronto on Thursday night with Ron Rolston behind the bench, the first time since the end of the 1996-97 season that their coach wasn't named Lindy Ruff. The Sabres fired Ruff on Wednesday after Buffalo opened 6-10-1.

The Sabres had some high times under Ruff -- they made the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 and went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2006 and '07. But a couple of problems Ruff wasn't able to solve likely contributed to his being let go.

One problem is that they're allowing too many shots. Through 17 games under Ruff, the Sabres were allowing an average of 33.5 shots per game; only Edmonton (33.6) was allowing more. Buffalo was being outshot by 3.6 shots per game. The Sabres have allowed an average of at least 31 shots per game in every season since limiting opponents to 28.4 in 2007-08.

Another lingering problem has been the inability to win faceoffs. Buffalo was dead last in the faceoff circle under Ruff at 44.6 percent -- and the Sabres haven't won more than half of their draws since 2006-07.

Doubling up -- New Jersey and Washington are playing a rare home-home series, with the Devils staying over in Washington for a Saturday afternoon game after beating the Capitals 3-2 on Thursday night.

It's the first time the Capitals have played the same team in back-to-back home games since April 2006, when they hosted Carolina on April 5-7 -- and that came after the teams met in Raleigh on April 3. Carolina won all three games. The teams also played consecutive games in Raleigh on March 25-29 (Washington won both), meaning that they played five times in a span of two weeks.

The back-to-back games in Washington are a novelty for the Devils -- before this, New Jersey had never played consecutive regular-season road games against the same opponent.

Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist

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