Lately, the Hawks have been winning every night—including a 9-2 thrashing of the Oilers on Tuesday in Edmonton—and are clicking in almost every facet of the game. Scoring? The Hawks lead the NHL with 3.66 goals per game.
Defense? They are seventh, yielding 2.55 goals per game.
Special teams? The power play ranks fifth with a 24 percent success rate and the penalty killing is seventh at 83.9. Goaltending?
The tandem of Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet is eighth with a combined 2.50 goals-against average.
“It’s a good group,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They care for one another and that’s important. It’s a good foundation and it reinforces our team game knowing that it’s a priority.”
The San Jose and Detroit Red Wings long have been the class of the Western Conference, but the Hawks are narrowing the gap and are doing it as the youngest team in the NHL.
“We’re all young,” defenseman Brent Seabrook, 23, said. “We’re all having fun and that’s the biggest part of this game. Everyone’s having a good time together and we’re still learning the game. That’s what makes it enjoyable.”
In the Central Division, the Hawks trail the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings by five points with one fewer game played. With five games remaining on the Hawks’ schedule until the teams meet outdoors Jan. 1 at Wrigley Field – including a matchup Dec. 30 in Detroit—there’s a possibility the game could be a battle for first in the division.
Despite the crushing of the Oilers and the heady offensive stats, it has been the Hawks’ diligence in their own zone that has been the difference this season.
“We’ve been responsible,” Quenneville said. “Our gaps in the neutral zone and our puck possession and passing have been good. We’ve been controlling the puck a lot of the time in the offensive zone. Our team game has been solid and we’re getting consistency from our lines.”
About the only area in which the Hawks have struggled has been in overtime and shootouts. In 10 games undecided in regulation, the Hawks have won three, meaning they have let seven points get away.
In previous seasons, those points would be a concern as far as making the postseason. This season, it appears those points could be in the mix for whether the Hawks challenge for a Central Division title.