There are more ups and downs in an NHL season than probably any professional sport, so discussing season-long implications after six games may seem silly. I don't care. These Hawks pass the eye test, and there are numbers to back it up.
There are already examples separating this year's team from the 10-11 version. The Hawks have managed to hold road leads over formidable (some would argue good) opponents in back-to-back contests. Last year's team wouldn't have done this; realistically they may have dropped both in overtime. Not this year's team.
There are signs that the ever-important depth reminiscent of the Stanley Cup Champs from two summers ago may be back. While fans are used to bracing for a failed clearing attempt or odd-man rush against when Q sends out the 3rd pairing, we're now comforted as Steve Montador or Sean O'Donnell usually make the simple, smart play. Where shifts were wasted last season on a mediocre Jake Dowell or lumbering John Scott, these Hawks are once again rolling four lines with confidence, a tool often underestimated by casual viewers. Having more depth gives teams additional headaches besides the Toews and Kane's of the world, and speaking of those two, they're playing their best hockey as well.
Pat Kane has turned the corner. He's winning draws, using his body to establish positioning and shooting with confidence. He may be absent in his zone every so often, but his two-way game is improving by leaps and bounds. Considering the summer rumors we heard about his alter ego "Kaner", we should be thrilled with his improvement and early production. Toews has been himself and appears to have excellent chemistry with Andrew Brunette.
The numbers, while a small sample size, back up the excitement. The Hawks rank in the top ten in penalty kill, 5-on-5 efficiency, shots for, shots against, and faceoff percentage. They'll undoubtedly add the power play to that list with more games under their belt.
All of this and I haven't even mentioned Dave Bolland, Marian Hossa or Nick Leddy (!), all of whom are playing good hockey. A 20-year old Leddy is especially cause for excitement.
It's too early for assumptions, but the Hawks already display signs that they're here to contend. So far, we've seen a combination of depth, goaltending, rested superstars and leadership.
We're 7% into the season, but I'm excited and optimistic as I've been in 16 months.
You should be too.
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