Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 1/23/12
Until the Nashville Predators derailed them 5-2 on Saturday under circumstances that were trying at best, the Chicago Blackhawks had gone seven straight games without a regulation loss. Coming off a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday and then having to brave a snowstorm to arrive in the early morning hours in the Music City, the Blackhawks entered the day with the most points in the NHL. Such a hot streak is giving the Blackhawks something of the aura they had in 2009-2010 when they won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. With one more game left before the All-Star break at home on Tuesday against Nashville, which will be coming off its second game in two days the Blackhawks have a chance to take the most points in the NHL into the break. Yeah, there are some similarities, said right wing Marian Hossa, who is having an All-Star season and is one of three Blackhawks with at least 20 goals the only team in the league to have that many. Its a little bit different. Obviously, weve got lots of young players, especially with a few guys injured. New guys coming up and theyre playing really well, so we get healthy and we got good depth on the team. You never know what can happen. Not only did the Blackhawks seem to suffer from a Cup hangover last season, but, perhaps more significantly, their roster underwent a radical transformation, owing to the leagues hard salary cap system, that few teams would be able to endure and still be considered a serious Cup contender. Consider: --Dustin Byfuglien became an All-Star in Atlanta last season and led the NHL in goals at his position with a career-high of 20. --Andrew Ladd scored a career-high 29 goals in Atlanta and became team captain. --Kris Versteeg hit the 20-goal mark while playing with two different teams (Toronto and Philadelphia). --The Hawks walked away from an arbitration award they felt they could not afford for Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi, who eventually signed with San Jose and took the Sharks to the Western Conference finals. --John Madden, one of the leagues top defensive forwards, signed in Minnesota. --Key depth players like defenseman Brent Sopel (sent to Atlanta in the Byfuglien trade), forwards Adam Burish (Dallas) and Ben Eager (also sent to Atlanta in the Byfuglien deal) also were gone. As if to emphasize how loaded that 09-10 Blackhawks roster was some called it a team of destiny two players named All-Star defenseman this season (Byfuglien and Floridas Brian Campbell) were not even on Chicagos top defense pair that championship season. In trying to paper over their deficiencies last season, the Hawks only got roster players in return for those losses in few cases. They were forced to go young, very young (19-year-old defenseman Nick Leddy played 46 games), and to get lesser imitations of some of the players they lost, like Fernando Pisani (7 goals, 9 assists in 60 games) and Marty Turco. Turco, in his final season of an excellent career, wasnt able to give them the kind of goaltending they needed, posting an .897 save percentage in 29 games. This season, the Blackhawks have taken an approach more in the John Wayne vein: true grit. Nashville coach Barry Trotz admiringly observed on Saturday that Chicago had added veterans like Jamal Mayers (60 penalty minutes and nine points in 49 games) and personality in 38-year-old Andrew Brunette (9 goals, 10 assists) a player whom Trotz scouted and helped to draft eons ago when he was part of Washingtons organization. Defenseman Steve Montador was a part of Calgarys run to Game 7 of the 04 Cup final. I think weve added more type of role players that complement the great core that we have here, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said, alluding to that core of defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Hossa. I think we have experienced guys. They add something whether its a leadership group, whether they add some abrasiveness. I think theyve all come in with a different kind of purpose, and a role, a job description, that was something we needed. Its a good group all the way around, but I think were deeper in areas. I think organizationally our depth has being challenged right now and its come in and helped us right now. Players like Leddy (2 goals, 22 assists) are starting to blossom and eight different rookies have suited up for the 'Hawks and are contributing. Rookies Andrew Shaw (5 goals in 10 games) and Jimmy Hayes (4 goals in 12 games) have helped out while Sharp, one of those three 20-goal players, has been out for an extended period with a wrist injury. It also helps that Seabrook and Keith are getting back to where they were in 2009-2010 when they were among the leagues best defensive pairs and Keith won the Norris Trophy. Keith is plus-14 after finishing last season minus-1 and Seabrook, who finished even last season, is plus-13. Their game is exactly where wed like it to be the last quarter (20 games), Quenneville said. One of the few obstacles that could derail the Hawks is health. Toews (upper-body injury) left Saturdays game early and will miss Tuesdays game in Nashville. Hes having a dominating season with 27 goals and 23 assists. If he and Sharp can return at their previous pace, the Hawks again could be a team of destiny. As Hossa said, you never know.
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