One Minute Remaining: Hawks running ahead of last season
With one of the tightest playoff races in both conferences past the 50 game mark, trades looming for the end of February could prove to be interesting, and Hawks coach Joel Quennville has said that he expects things to remain tight until the regular schedule ends on April 8.
In the Central Division, only Columbus is really out of contention with Detroit, St.Louis, Nashville and Chicago virtually running in a dead heat. Comparing the pace of the past two seasons, the Hawks are running six points ahead of last year when they landed the last playoff spot with 97 points in the same number of home games (29) after 50 games.
Despite having only 12 games left at the United Center and not returning home until Feb. 19, the Hawks should improve on their home record from last year when they were 24-17. They are currently 19-6-4 at the UC.
The 2010 Cup winners were 34-12-4 (72 points) after 50 contests, which matched the1971 mark and was only one point fewer (73) than the 1972 squad led by Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito in goal.
Chicago's 1961 Cup titlists were only 20-19-11 (51 points) in their first 50 starts.
Individually, Marian Hossa is on his way to his best showing in a Hawks sweater. Captain Jonathan Toews could eclipse his 34 goal total of 2009, and the same could be true for Patrick Sharp's 36 goal mark set in 2008.
A healthy Dave Bolland has already matched his goal output (15) of last season and should beat his best of 19 markers set in 2009. Viktor Stalberg, now in his second season with Chicago, has already surpassed his best NHL totals.
While many players fall into a sophomoe slump after a strong rookie campaign, Patrick Kane is off to a slower than usual start in his fifth campaign. However, with his talent I expect him to have a strong finish.
Last season in the Western Conference it took a record total (97 points) to make the playoffs. With a tight race it may take even a few more, but if the Hawks continue their current pace and stay injury free, I expect the team to hit between 104 and 106 points in their quest for their second Cup in the past three seasons.