The great thing about an 82-game season is its large sample size.
While a 5 or 6 game stretch could bring out the worst in a team, there is always an opportunity to bounce back and prove that a certain portion of the season was the exception to the rule.
With 31 games yet to be played from now until mid-April, the Blackhawks have the opportunity to do just that. Their current record of 27-20-4 leaves them in the thick of a playoff race. They sit in 7th place in the Western Conference standings and tied for 8th in point percentage.
The Hawks' record -- the only number that matters -- is ironically the one stat that doesn't reveal them as a top-tier team. Besides penalty killing (which is getting better) and faceoff percentage, the team ranks toward the top of the league in every category you can think of.
Their power play, converting at 25.6%, is the best in the NHL. They play some of the best even strength hockey in the league as well, ranking 5th with a 1.15 G/GA ratio.
The puck possession style that helped them dominate games last year appears to be coming back to form; they rank in the top 8 in the league in shot and shots against per game.
If this is all true, why the average record?
One explanation is their inability to close games. Their winning percentage when leading through 2 periods ranks 24th in the NHL. They also rank 27th when leading after 1, and 23rd when scoring first. Those are troubling numbers.
The good news is that the above numbers indicate a mental issue, not a physical one. The talent is still there, and that talent will be tough to beat in a 7 game series.
The only question is whether or not the team can be as mentally tough as last year's; for some reason, I can imagine some of this year's newcomers hanging it up in a Nashville Game 5 type situation. Last year's team had "it." They were never, ever out of a game, a series, or a season. When they went down 2-1 in the Nashville series, I remember not only feeling sorrow that the Hawks were 2 losses from elimination, but I also felt anger with God that he could allow such a thing to happen to a team of destiny.
Last year, the universe seemed to side with the Blackhawks. If early blown whistles, untimely injuries and bad bounces are any indication thus far, it may be just the opposite this season.
But the universe can't stop the games from being played. In the remaining 31, the Hawks look to prove that the core of the roster means business and can contend for a title defense.
Even if the city, league and some fans have already written off that possibility, the numbers say otherwise.