Well the Hawks are back at home tonight after a short and sweet road trip. Going into Thursday night's game, the Avs were absolutely on fire in that they had just returned from a road trip where they beat four teams currently out of playoff contention and the Maple Leafs. Both of the Avs losses have come at home, one to the Wings and one to the Hawks. This was a great trip for the Hawks, but like the Avs, they are coming home on a bit of a high and that's always a dangerous setup for a let down. Without a doubt, the Avs are again going to come at them hard but on the plus side, there aren't going to be any surprises here. Going into that last game, most prognosticators had the same outlook; the Avs are fast and skilled but still suspect on D. Looking at how the Hawks goals got set up, they came from winning battles down low and I see no reason why that won't work again.
The Hawks record so far is quite respectable. Two of the Hawks wins have been against the Avs and the Stars, both of whom are ahead of the Hawks right now. Though the Jets and the Yotes are not powerhouse teams, the win against the Jets came after spotting them two goals and enduring a well played Q timeout. As for the Yotes, that was simply a solid win with a lot of hard work and willingness to grind. The game with Boston was a let down and was a game they probably should have won. Still, compared to getting spanked 3-0 by them last year, I thought this was an improvement. As for the loss to the Stars, meh, it was close and the follow up response was exactly what you want to see.
Looking up at the three teams ahead of the Hawks, it's an arguable point to say that those teams have not really had a tough schedule to date. Detroit is doing what it always does and like last year, the Avs and the Stars are off to great starts. Considering that the Avs and Stars had great starts last year only to later fall precipitously, I don't hold a lot of stock in the current standings as some predictor. I am, however, happy that the Hawks have gotten wins or taken at least a point from teams with a variety of styles. Six games is a very small sample, but they have lost two one goal games, won two one goal games (discount empty nets) and won two pretty decisive contests. Considering the competition, I'd say that's a pretty good showing.
Without a doubt, the core is playing better this year and has factored heavily into the current record. To a player, they look refreshed, hungry and have adapted and taken their games up a notch, particularly Kane and Bickell. The new additions, to me, have done exactly what they are supposed to. On paper, each had a known skill set and each has delivered on what was expected. Montador was a slow start but has been improving quite a bit. The unexpected surprise, of course, has been Carcillo. It still amazes me that in Thursday night's game his TOI was nearly identical to Sharp's. I don't think anyone expected that. It's still way early, but this short road trip showed some promising things and some nice potential upside. I still don't think this team is playing it's best hockey, and that's a good thing.
Lastly, I feel the need to again sing the praise of Q and SB. Most of us were happy with the acquisitions as they were coming in over the summer though we scratched our heads at Montador (salary anyway) and Carcillo. With each passing game though, I think SB is looking smarter and smarter for what he has given Q to work with. As for Q, I think he needs props as well. Talent is a lot of the equation and without a doubt, Q had a lot of talent when they won the cup. Still, not all coaches win with a lot of talent and it was no small feat to go from not making the playoffs to winning the cup in just two seasons. Last year, Q had to deal with an enormous loss of talent AND depth of role players. In the players he retained, he had what frequently looked like a lack of hunger to deal with. I'll admit I was frequently in the camp of Q bashers and I don't take back a lot of what I bitched about. Still, had the Hawks made the second round, I doubt anyone bitches very much.
With what he has been given to work with this year, I think Q has done a good job. I still don't like the Keith/Leddy thing, but for at least one game now, there has been something positive there. Nobody likes the John Scott thing, but it can't be said that Scott has cost us a game. Not many people at the start of the season liked the idea of Kane at center or the idea of Carcillo on Kane's line, but those complaints are fading fast. Like SB, Q inherited a solidly built team that was just about ready to explode. After one season of, "meh" from top to bottom, Q is into his second year of rebuilding and he and SB are both putting their stamp on this team. Yes, his core is playing better and with a hunger they didn't have last year. Still, in just a short sample, I feel like I'm seeing an adaptability in this team that didn't exist last year and I give credit to Q for having a hand in that. That's a lotta words for six games.
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