Time: 6:00 PM
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The Enemy: Islanders Hockey Blog
Throughout this season Hawks fans have longed to see something tangible from the team that would signal to them that yes, the Blackhawks have finally remembered to play like the defending Stanley Cup champions that they are, and yes, the rest of the stretch is all uphill finally.
We likened it to last season, when the Hawks came back from a 5-0 game against the Calgary Flames and won it 6-5 in overtime. This season, we thought, it was maybe the Vancouver game in October, a tightly played 2-1 victory against our Northwestern nemesis. We thought our 5-0 shutout of the Oilers would be the start of better things to come. We thought it was our 7-2 drubbing of the Canucks during the circus trip. We thought it was our latest 4-game winning streak.
Reason #1 for Optimism: This Patrick could have finally found his stride.
So far we don't think we've seen THAT game yet.
It certainly wouldn't be Friday night, when the Hawks gave up another goal on the kill to a lackluster Senators team. Not when they played listlessly for most of the three periods. Not when they gave up a tying goal in the third and turned a 2-point night into a shootout game.
But two points is two points (actually, given the number of tied games we've squandered away going into the third period, I'll take even just a single pity point), and when last year we as fans had the luxury of picking on the finer details of the Blackhawks' game, this year is all about getting those two points because we've squandered so many already. This second half of the season is about catching up to the rest of the West and hoping the bad bounces, missed calls, Stalbergesque luck will even out in our favor.
We're getting there, I think, and it's not hard to say we've got many of the fundamentals in place. Our team is the healthiest it's been all year, and more importantly, personnel decisions are starting to resemble reason. Boynton and Scott are sitting, Hendry and Leddy are absorbing the minutes that Q could only seem to give an increasingly exhausted Duncan Keith, and while Kopecky is still, inexplicably, padding his stats on the top two lines, at least that leaves our fourth line relatively competent. Our third line, effective once they've learned to play alongside each other, is intact, Sharp hasn't reallly slowed down at all, and hopefully the Senators saw the awakening of the demon child that is Patrick Kane.
Reason #2 for Optimism: This Patrick is still a very handsome man, and Crawford's held up the back end pretty well.
One may be tempted to look at the schedule and think that, with the Isles coming up on the Blackhawks' calendar, the stars are aligning to finally get the team moving in the right direction. Yeah, it's an easy conclusion to make, but have you watched the Hawks lately? They've tended to play down to the opposition while their opposition's come out salivating at the thought of taking down the current champs.
The Islanders may only be the 15th in the East (and 4th in Atlantic) due to the implosion of the Devils, but don't forget we gave the Devils one of their 10 wins this season and the Islanders have embarrassed us on home ice (and their own ice, I think) before. Despite the loss of defenseman Mark Streit to injury before the season even started, and the recent trade of leading Isles scorer James Wisniewski to the Habs in return for prospects and picks, they've actually won 8 of their last 11 games, some of which came against Tampa Bay, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
Reason #3 for Optimism: It's his walk year?
Their scoring has come in bursts, however, and their goaltending was meant to be more stable than it was until they traded Roloson away and DiPietro suffered another injury scare. They're fairly young and they do have a team of hardworking, underrated players, posing an easy psychological trap that the Blackhawks could very easily fall into.
But the Blackhawks are healthy. The best roster possible is getting iced. Their superstars may finally play like superstars.
Let's hope they start playing like they have a Cup to defend.