The Chicago Blackhawks played last night against the Colorado Avalanche and wouldn’t you know it, they won! The Blackhawks are now 21-0-3. Their remarkable streak is still intact and it continues to draw national (US) interest as of late, even from outlets like ESPN.
Teams with long winning streaks will naturally have people questioning whether it is good or bad to the team’s long term goal of winning a championship. The argument against the streak is that too much effort and resources are poured into a regular season accomplishment which can have a negative impact on players’ health and energy levels for the playoffs.
Probably the best example of a team who invested way too much into a regular season winning streak were the 1992-1993 Pittsburgh Penguins. That Penguins team still holds the NHL record for most wins in a row with 17. This was back when ties were still an available outcome; the Penguins had no ties during the streak.
The 92-93 Penguins were fresh off two consecutive Stanley Cup Championships. Naturally the players took this winning streak on as a new challenge, which is completely understandable. However, it should have been up to Coach Scotty Bowman to not over utilize his players in an effort to keep the streak going. Bowman did over extend his top players in order to maintain the winning streak and the result was a tired Penguins team entering the playoffs. Not to mention Mario Lemieux battled through sessions of chemotherapy during the season which certainly took its toll on his ability to carry the team in a playoff environment.
The Penguins were upset in the 2nd round by the New York Islanders in a thrilling Game 7 OT finale. The result of that loss to the Islanders put a dagger in the best chance there ever was of a Lemieux vs Gretzky Stanley Cup Final. That Penguins team was widely considered the best roster that Pittsburgh has ever put together in their franchise’s history.
So why do I bring up the Penguins and how they went about their streak? I do so because currently the Chicago Blackhawks are NOT falling into the same trap.
The only way the Blackhawks awesome streak can be a disadvantage is if Quenneville shortens his bench like the Penguins did and over extends his players in an effort to keep the streak going. After looking over the time on ice per game (TOI/G) statistics for each player, there is no player that sticks out as being over used.
Duncan Keith who is a prime candidate to log incredible amounts of ice time is the only Blackhawk in the top 30 TOI/G in the entire NHL. Keith plays 23:53 minutes per game which ranks 30th overall in the league. In 2011-2012 Keith was tied for 1st with former Blackhawk Brian Campbell in TOI/G. Each player played 26:53 minutes on average. Keith also led the NHL in TOI/G with that same 26:53 in the 2010-2011 season.
Brent Seabrook was ranked 18th overall in TOI/G during the 2010-2011 season with 24:23. In 2011-2012 he was ranked 17th with 24:43 TOI/G. This season Quenneville has dialed him back to 23:04 TOI/G which has him ranked 46th overall.
As far as forwards are concerned only Patrick Kane ranks in the top 30 for TOI/G. Kane ranks 26th in the NHL with 20:16. Kane is the only Blackhawk forward to average over 20 minutes per game this season. Jonathan Toews averages 19:32 minutes per game which is ranked 40th overall for forwards in the NHL. In 2011-2012 the Blackhawks had four players in the top TOI/G amongst NHL forwards. Toews (20:50) was 14th overall, Kane 24th (20:11), Hossa 31st (19:58), and Patrick Sharp was 34th (19:53).
These declines in TOI/G to Quenneville's top forwards and defensemen are only going to help the Hawks as the 2012-2013 season moves on.
Quenneville has also been able to balance the amount of playing time each of his goaltenders have been receiving. Crawford has started in 14 games while Emery has started in 10 games. Ray Emery is the first goaltender ever to start his season 10-0.
Another sign that Quenneville is doing a good job of managing the playing minutes of his players is that only 3 players who have dressed for the Blackhawks this year have averaged less than 10 minutes played per game: Dan Carcillo (9:06), Jamal Mayers (6:44), and Brandon Bollig (5:31).
By utilizing his entire roster it provides each player more opportunity to make an impact on the game. By giving the bottom 6 forwards and bottom pairing defensemen important minutes during the streak, it gives those players extreme confidence and a feel of self worth. Everybody feels like they have a hand in every victory. This is such a huge benefit to the Chicago Blackhawks moving forward. Usually this terrific dynamic of camaraderie is only obtained during a playoff run, not before it.
You can find examples of this in recent games by the Blackhawks. Against the Red Wings Chicago relied on star Patrick Kane to tie the game late on the PP and then win it in the shootout. In their recent game against Minnesota it was 3rd liner Brian Bickell who potted two goals in a 5-3 victory. The most recent example is Quenneville putting 4th liner Dan Carcillo on the ice in the last minute of a tie game against Colorado. Carcillo responded by scoring the game winning goal.
This shows incredible depth and a team that is firing on all cylinders.
One dynamic that a coach cannot control is injury. It doesn’t matter how well a coach is utilizing his entire roster; injuries will always be a part of the game. Recently the Hawks lost Marian Hossa to an upper body injury against Minnesota. Last night Chicago lost Patrick Sharp to what looks like a 2-3 week shoulder injury (per Nick Cotsonika).
The nice thing for the Blackhawks moving forward is that this will only bump up the minutes of role players and give them more opportunity and confidence as stated before. The Blackhawks have built up such an incredible lead in the standings that they will not be forced into over extending their top players minutes. Combine the Blackhawks lead in the standings with a coach managing his players minutes properly and you have a very good recipe for the Blackhawks success to continue.
The Blackhawks streak has been incredibly impressive, but even more impressive is the fact that Head Coach Joel Quenneville still has his eye on the bigger picture, the Stanley Cup.
Thanks for reading!