On the verge of history, Blackhawks enjoying unique run
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Please excuse the Chicago Blackhawks if none of their players or staff have taken the time to go see "Disney on Ice presents Rockin' Ever After" at United Center. They've been too busy dismantling the rest of the National Hockey League.
With a busy Chicago Bulls home schedule in January and a two-week run of the Disney on-ice spectacular, the Blackhawks have dealt with a schedule that has seen them play 10 of their first 14 games on the road. Based on how the team is playing, it would be hard to notice that disadvantage.
With an 11-0-3 record entering the action Saturday, the Blackhawks are now within reach of the best start in League history. As if the road-heavy start wasn't bad enough, 10 of the 12 teams they've played had a .500 record or better coming into Saturday. Seven of those opposing teams qualified for the playoffs last season.
The last team to enjoy this kind of blistering start was the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07, who made history when they started 12-0-4. That team won the Pacific Division before going on to win the franchise's only Stanley Cup championship.
Those Ducks benefited from a scheduled that was much friendlier than what Chicago has seen. The only other team in recent memory to go undefeated in regulation in their first 15 games was the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers, who went 12-0-3 before also winning the Stanley Cup.
Two other teams come to mind when listing the best starts in recent NHL history. The same year that Anaheim enjoyed their torrid start, the Buffalo Sabres won their first 10 games, posting a 10-0-0 mark that matched the best winning streak to start an NHL season.
Those Sabres went on to earn the Presidents' Trophy before losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to Ottawa. The following season, that same Ottawa team started 13-1-0 before slumping and being swept by Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs.
While Buffalo and Anaheim paced one another in 2006, Chicago has been unmatched so far. Their plus-19 goal differential is easily the League's best, doubling the total for 13 of the 15 NHL teams posting a positive goal differential. Their attack has also been impressively balanced, with 12 players having registered at least six points through 14 games. No other NHL team has more than 10.
In a shortened 2012-13 season, there are plenty of positives to take from Chicago's incredible start.
Here's a game-by-game account of how they've done it:
Saturday, Jan 19, 2013 - CHI 5, LAK 2: Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa showed the form that will carry the Blackhawks early in the season, combining for three goals and five points as Chicago spoils the Kings' banner-raising by charging out to a 4-0 lead and earning a comfortable victory.
Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 - CHI 6, PHX 4: The following evening, Chicago fell behind 1-0 and then 2-1 to the Coyotes before storming back with four unanswered goals. Hossa and Dave Bolland both enjoyed two-goal games.
Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 - STL 2, CHI 3: At home against a Blues team that appeared unstoppable while beating Detroit 6-0 on opening night, Chicago got points from nine different players as they raced out to a 3-0 lead. St. Louis came out firing in the third, outshooting Chicago 16-9. While they scored twice, Corey Crawford showed poise as the team's No. 1 goaltender.
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 - CHI 3, DAL 2 (OT): For the first time in the young season, Chicago appeared on the verge of losing in regulation. The upstart Stars took a 2-0 lead midway through the match. But Jonathan Toews' hard work in front of the net tied the game in the third before Hossa and Kane worked a give-and-go in overtime for a winning goal that remains one of the top highlights of the season.
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 - CHI 3, CBJ 2: Against a Blue Jackets team they swept in the 2011-12 season series, the Blackhawks actually fell behind in the first. But three unanswered goals from three different players gave Chicago a hard-fought win in which they only mustered 24 shots.
Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 - DET 1, CHI 2 (OT): In the first installment of the classic Original Six rivalry this season, it isn't the scoring that carried Chicago, but their goaltending. Patrick Kane was kept off the scoresheet for the first time all season, Crawford stopped 29 shots and Nick Leddy won the game in overtime. The 6-0-0 start was the best in franchise history.
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 - CHI 2, MIN 3 (SO): It was going to happen eventually. Chicago lost, but the Minnesota Wild needed the shootout to do it. Despite being outshot 15-7 in the first period, the Blackhawks led 2-1 after 20 minutes. But Cal Clutterbuck tied the game early in the second and Matt Cullen sealed the win in a shootout.
Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 - CHI 1, VAN 2 (SO): In their second match of a season-long six-game road swing, Chicago appeared to be in trouble when Alex Edler's goal was the lone tally into the third period. But as he's done all season, Kane led the charge, tying the game midway through the final period before Jordan Schroeder handed the Blackhawks a 2-1 loss in the fourth round of the shootout.
Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 - CHI 3, CGY 2 (SO): Calgary was 1-3-1 entering the game, but Chicago was playing its third game in four nights. As such, the game yielded no goals until the third period, when both teams scored a pair. Kane won it in the shootout, but backup Ray Emery shined in this game, subbing for Crawford to make 45 saves in regulation and overtime along with three more in the shootout.
Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 - CHI 5, SJS 3: In the most-anticipated game of the young season, the Blackhawks (7-0-2) came to San Jose to meet the Sharks (7-2-0). The first period didn't disappoint, as the teams combined for six goals in the opening frame and four goals in an 89-second span. Crawford calmed down after a wild first, stopping all 23 shots he faced in the final two periods and Kane collected the go-ahead marker in the second before sealing the 5-3 win with an empty-netter.
Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 - CHI 6, PHX 2: The Coyotes came into the game having allowed six goals in their previous five games. Nobody told the Blackhawks, who scored four in the first period alone. After outshooting Phoenix 17-4 in the first, Chicago chased Mike Smith in the second on their way to a comfortable win.
Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 - CHI 3, NSH 0: After showing off their offense for much of the season, Chicago clamped down on an overmatched Nashville team. Three different Blackhawks scored and the stifling Chicago defense allowed a combined seven shots in the first two periods, helping Crawford get his first shutout of the season.
Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 - ANH 3, CHI 2 (SO): Playing at home for the first time in two weeks, Chicago was rewarded with a matchup against the Ducks (8-2-1), who had won five of their past six games. Chicago led 2-1 late in regulation, but Andrew Cogliano tied the game with 2:40 remaining before Corey Perry sealed the Anaheim win in the shootout.
Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 - SJS 1, CHI 4: The Blackhawks were well rested and playing their second game in a season-long seven-game homestand, and it showed. In a rematch against San Jose, Chicago dominated while making their push for history. The team fired 37 shots at Antti Niemi and once again scoring came from everywhere as eight different Blackhawks players registered a point in the win.