Know Your Foe: Chicago
Wild.com Managing Editor Mike Doyle previews the Wild's new Central Division rival
The Minnesota Wild is moving into the Western Conference's Central Division. The club will realign with six other clubs: Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.
It's important to know your enemies, so leading up to the 2013-14 regular season Wild.com Managing Editor Mike Doyle will take a look the Wild’s new divisional rivals. Today he gets to know the Chicago Blackhawks.
Additions: Nikolai Khabibulin
Subtractions: Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg, Ray Emery
2012-13 Season Summary
Record: 36-7-5, 77 pts.
Finished: 1st in Central Division, 1st in Western Conference
Playoffs: Won Stanley Cup Final against Boston 4-2
2012-13 Wild Record (Regular Season): 1-2-0
All-time Wild Record: 27-18-2
2012-13 Team Summary
Goals: Patrick Kane & Jonathan Toews (23)
Assists: Patrick Kane (32)
Points: Patrick Kane (55)
Wins: Corey Crawford (19)
SO: Corey Crawford & Ray Emery (3)
SV%: Corey Crawford (.926)
Last season the Blackhawks started the year with an historic run, going 24-straight games without a loss from the puck drop on Opening Night. The club went wire-to-wire atop of the NHL standings on its way to winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the League’s top regular-season team. The Blackhawks didn’t take its foot off the pedal until hoisting the Stanley Cup with a 4-2 Final victory over the Boston Bruins. It was the franchise’s second parade with Lord Stanley in four years.
So, this season the Hawks will have a target on its back as the defending champion, but it’s been 15 years since the last back-to-back champions, the Detroit Red Wings. The team lost some key Cup contributors in the offseason, including Dave Bolland who scored the Game 6 winner in Boston. However, the club’s core remains intact. If betting were legal, you’d have to pencil the Blackhawks into the postseason and a favorite to repeat.
The two centerpieces of Chicago’s core are a pair of talented forwards with clashing styles, both on and off the ice: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Toews, dubbed Captain Serious, is a two-way workhorse, last year winning the Selke Trophy as “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game." Toews finished third in the NHL in plus-minus with a career-high +28 rating; shared the overall lead in takeaways with fellow Selke finalist Pavel Datsyuk (56); placed second in the NHL in face-off winning percentage (59.9%, 559-374); and played an average of 1:25 per game on the NHL's third-ranked penalty-killing unit (87.2%).
Kane, a wee less serious than Toews away from the rink, is a flashy puck-handling dervish who can lull defenders mesmerized by moves to find wide-open teammates on the fly. The crafty winger set a career-high in points per game (1.17) during the lockout-shortened season. He also led the team in playoff points (9-10=19) on his way to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Along with boasting one of the most potent offenses in the NHL, the Blackhawks D-corps is among the League’s best. Former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and his defensive partner Brent Seabrook lead a blue line that went unchanged in the offseason. Earlier this month, the club inked 26-year-old Niklas Hjalmarsson to a five-year extension.
Going into last season it was believed that goaltending was the team’s weak link. However, Corey Crawford’s regular-season and playoff performance silenced any doubters, as he emerged as a true number one netminder. Crawford’s emergence allowed the team to part ways with Ray Emery, who was equally impressive during the 2012-13 season. The team signed 40-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin, but expect Crawford to take a majority of the workload.
2.02 – Chicago’s goals against average, lowest in the NHL last season.
3.10 – Chicago’s goals per game, second in the NHL only behind Pittsburgh (3.38).
16.7 – Chicago’s power play percentage, which ranked 19th in the League.