NHL Power Rankings: Defensive issues aside, Blackhawks back on top

by | NHL Blogger
Veteran winger Kris Versteeg returns to make Chicago even better up front. (USATSI)
Veteran winger Kris Versteeg returns to make Chicago even better up front. (USATSI)

If it's possible for a defending champ from a city like Chicago to go under the radar to start a season, it feels like the Blackhawks have done it.

In the early going of this campaign there were enough storylines arising that the annual notion of a Stanley Cup hangover has never come up (because it's not an issue but that's another story). You had the Sharks setting the NHL's hair on fire, the Avalanche beginning the Patrick Roy era with a franchise-best run, the Pacific and Central Divisions emerging as monsters, three coaches fired and the overall struggles in the East. The Hawks have had nary a mention.

Perhaps it's time that changed because the Blackhawks look every bit as powerful as they did last season when they won the Cup for the second time in four seasons. Their formula for winning this season is a wee bit different but they are still getting the same result; lots and lots of points. As it stands, the Blackhawks are tied atop the NHL with 32 points with the Ducks while having played one fewer game.

They have the league's best offense by a rather comfortable margin (3.57 goals per game to San Jose's 3.38) and they just added a regular 20-plus goal guy in Kris Versteeg to help fill in the "hole" on the wing below the top line. He hasn't exactly looked right in the last season-plus, however a return to Chicago seems to have given him a lift and it looks like a case of the rich getting richer, especially since the Hawks are paying for just half of Versteeg's salary (thanks to old friend Dale Tallon).

That said, the Blackhawks are no different than all the other teams in that they have some issues. It's hard to fathom for a team with their kind of defensive depth, but the Blackhawks have been leaky on the blue line. The top D in the NHL a season ago, Chicago is 22nd this season in goals against. Even worse, the PK has gone from third to 29th.

Despite the shortcomings of the D so far, the Blackhawks are still atop the NHL in points, a sign of a scary amount of depth. When one facet of the game falls, they have the ability to pick it up elsewhere and keep on winning. In case it wasn't clear, they are still very, very good.

And, as the league's top team as far as possession metrics go (Corsi Close and Fenwick), it's unlikely to change anytime soon. They might not win this particular way all season, but there's no reason to think they won't continue to win at this rate. If they can get more out of the goaltenders than just average play (.920 save percentage is 16th in the league), the burden will be lifted solely from the offense, if it even needs said burden lifted. Their shooting percentage is high, but not absurdly high that you expect a major regression coming. They simply outchance opponents, and when you do that game in, game out, you're going to score more than them most often, particularly when you have the finishers the Blackhawks have.

They represent the NHL's best shot at a repeat winner, something we have not seen since the 20th century. The scary thing is we know that one half of their game can be much better than it has been and they're still atop the NHL standings. They also move to the top of the Power Rankings after a tough week for previous top teams.


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