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An interesting week for the boys in black and red. It began with an embarrassing loss to the St. Louis Blues giving the Hawks their third loss in a row, and then ended with a three game win streak to solidify their position at the top of the Western Conference. After losing to the Blues, it looked like the Hawks were about to enter a slump. As I said, they had lost three in a row, but worse than that, they haven’t won in regulation since October 29th beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 at the United Center. Moreover, their PP woes were continuing. Coming out of the Blues game last Tuesday, the Hawks were 1 for their last 30 PP opportunities; that’s dreadful!

However, thanks again to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Hawks rebounded quickly from that mini-slump and reeled off three straight regulation victories. Not only that, they have found their PP touch again. In the last three games, the Hawks have converted on 4 of their last 11 PP chances (36%). In addition, they have scored 16 goals over that three game stretch. The goal tending has been a bit underwhelming, but adequate to win games.

Chicago won three of their four games last week earning six out of a possible eight points. For the season, the Blackhawks are 11-4-3 (25 pts) in their first 18 games. They are six points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings (who have won their last four games) with three more games played than Detroit. The Hawks are atop the Western Conference three points ahead of the Dallas Stars (22 pts in 16 games) and four points ahead of Minnesota (21 pts in 17 games). The Blackhawks are now entering their annual circus road trip, a six game road trip through western Canada (Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton) and the west coast (San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles). Typically, the barometer for a successful road trip is winning four of the six games. If Chicago can accomplish that, it would put them in a good position going into the second quarter of the season.

After 18 games, the Hawks have six players in double-digit scoring. The Hawks points leader is Patrick Kane with 19 points (6G, 13A). Next is Marian Hossa (8G, 10A), Patrick Sharp (5G, 12A), Jonathan Toews (9G, 6A), Nick Leddy (2G, 10A) and Duncan Keith (2G, 8A). As far as the goal tending is concerned, Corey Crawford is a bit off his pace from last year. He’s currently at 2.72 GAA and a .905 save percentage. That’s not too good. He’s allowed 17 goals in his last 5 games. While 9 of those goals have been on the PP, part of a team’s PK success is the play of their goalie; he’s the last line of defense. I trust Crawford will step up his play, but if his GAA creeps up over 3.00 and his SP gets below .900, look for Ray Emery to get some more minutes in net. He was spectacular in his one game played last week allowing Calgary only one goal on 25 shots.

On to the games…

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 — Blues 3, Blackhawks 0: What can be said of this game? Jaroslav Halak was very impressive blocking all 29 shots he faced. He stone walled the Blackhawks. They definitely had their scoring chances, but Halak stood tall in the net and blanked Chicago for only the second time this season. St. Louis goals were scored by Vladimir Sobotka (1) at 8:15 in the 1st, Christ Stewart (3) at 1:23 of the 2nd on the PP, and T.J. Oshie (4) at 13:54 in the 3rd. The Blackhawks registered 12 shots in the 3rd in an attempt to get back into the game, but to no avail. Third loss in a row and a disappointing loss to a division opponent.

Thursday, November 10, 2011 — Blackhawks 6, Blue Jackets 3: The Columbus Blue Jackets, the cure for the common hockey slump. Just when you thought the Hawks might slip into a prolonged slump, the Blue Jackets appear on the schedule. After getting shut out in the previous game, the Hawks exploded for six goals in this game. They started early and kept it up throughout the game. The blowout was completed with a 3-goal 2nd period by the Hawks. Chicago rediscovered their missing PP game as well. They converted on 2 of 3 PP chances with PP goals scored by Andrew Burnette (3) and Steve Montador (1) in the 2nd period. Captain Jonathan Toews opened the scoring with his 6th goal of the season 7:00 into the game, then scored his 2nd of the game with three minutes to go in the period to give Chicago a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission. Chicago extended that lead to 5-1 at the end of the 2nd with goals by Burnette, Montador and Patrick Kane (5). Marian Hossa closed out Chicago’s scoring with his 8th goal of the season half a minute into the 3rd period. Crawford blocked 27 of 30 shots for a solid effort in net.

Friday, November 11, 2011 — Blackhawks 4, Flames 1: Second game of a back-to-back set and the Blackhawks second win; a very impressive win by the Hawks. Chicago’s star defensive pairing accounted for the Blackhawk’s first two goals of the game. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook each registered their first goals of the season — Keith at 12:09 of the 1st and Seabrook at 12:11 of the 2nd on the PP. Olli Jokinen (4) brought the Flames within a goal, midway through the 3rd, but Victor Stalberg tipped in a beautiful pass from Marian Hossa to give Chicago a 3-1 lead with a little over three minutes to play. Chicago sealed the deal with an EN goal by Kane (6) with four seconds to play. Patrick Sharp was the dish master this game, registering three assists on the night. Ray Emery started in net, giving Crawford a breather, and played spectacularly, blocking 24 of 25 shots.

Sunday, November 13, 2011 — Blackhawks 6, Oilers 3: The Edmonton Oilers, last season’s laughing stock, is an early season contender in 2011-12. They came into the United Center with a 9-5-2 (20 pts) record so far and looking to knock the Hawks down a notch. However, Chicago had different plans for the night. For the second time in three games, the Hawks scored 6 goals. The Blackhawks jumped out to a 3-1 first period lead thanks to goals from Jonathan Toews (8) and Steve Montador (2, 3 PP). Edmonton and Chicago each scored two in the second to keep Chicago with a two-goal lead. Chicago goals were scored by Toews (9) and Duncan Keith (2). Both teams were scoreless in the third when Daniel Carcillo scored on the empty net with a little over a minute to go in the game. Keith, Leddy, Montador, Sharp, Toews, Hossa and Kane each notched two points for the game. Crawford turned in another adequate performance in net blocking 20 of 23 shots. What’s good to see is that even if Crawford has a mediocre night in net, the rest of the team responds by outscoring their opponent. That’s how championship teams play. Sometimes the goalie wins the game and sometimes the goal scorers win the game.

Next up: First leg of the west coast trip with games in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

Until next week: GO HAWKS!!!