What’s that old saying? Seven in a row ain’t bad? Yeah, I think that’s it.
While at least five of the first six victories during the streak were of the nail-biting fashion, this one allowed Hawk fans to toast to a victory some time before our hearts resumed a normal pace after the final horn sounded (or, in the case of a couple of the wins, after the time the final shootout attempt was stopped by Corey Crawford). On a Friday night, we’re all thankful for that opportunity. Even better, the Hawks actually used the final 20 minutes to add to a lead, rather than to allowed it to be chipped away by the competition.
Incredible enough, if you blinked during the past ten days, you’ve missed that the Hawks have jumped to fourth place in the Western Conference from being the playoff picture just a short time ago. What’s more, the Hawks are only seven points behind Detroit for the Division championship, though one of those would be a minor miracle. And all of this comes without having played a couple more games than everyone else in the conference – something the Hawks couldn’t say a couple months ago.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
– This is my first writing since Chris Campoli joined the team. While I’m a little surprised that Bowman went out and got something of a duplicative piece, there’s no doubt that the Hawks were badly in need of an NHL defenseman. Campoli is certainly that. Yeah, he’s smallish and doesn’t quite fit the third-pairing mold (not that the Hawks necessarily have a third pairing, per se), but beggars can’t be choosers.
What’s most impressive about Campoli to me is his ability to make a quick, small play in his own zone, very much like Duncan Keith. A couple times on Wednesday night against the Flames, Campoli made neat little passes – no longer than about 15 feet each – in his own zone that gave one of his teammates some much-needed room and completely busted the Flame forecheck. When compared to the player he has essentially replaced – Jordan Hendry, of course – it’s a huge step in the right direction; Hendry, although capable of skating with the puck in open spaces, was routinely unable to help his team break out. For a team that uses the break-out to create offense, Campoli’s ability to fit in should really, really help. No, he’s not Paul Coffey, but he’s definitely an improvement.
– Just about everyone has begun to recognize Jonathan Toews as a Hart Trophy candidate given his recent surge. The NHL voters generally give meaning to the phrase “most valuable” and Toews’ strong play down the stretch of the regular season should at least make him a finalist with a couple players who have produced more consistently all season.
But, that’s not my point here. Toews’ candidacy now officially includes one of my all-time biggest pet peeves. See for yourself in Si.com’s story this week, which includes the following tale:
With inconsistent results piling up, Toews apparently unloaded on his teammates after they fell behind 2-0 in St. Louis on Feb. 21. (Toews would only say that he “vented a little frustration.”) They stormed back to take the game, 5-3, and have now rattled off five consecutive victories, going through February by grabbing 18 of a possible 26 points, and climbing in the choked Western Conference to seventh, only two points out of fourth.
What’s most frustrating to me about the pump-up-speech-making-the-difference theory is the surely false assumption that the player (or coach, or whomever) had never before delivered such a speech. After all, if the player has such an impact on his teammates, any previous speech would have been received with similar results, no? Are we to believe that Toews quietly sat on his hands before February 21st in St. Louis when he unleashed hell on his teammates? If so, shouldn’t we actually be mad with him that he waited until the Hawks were out of the playoff picture so late in the regular season to flex his muscles in the dressing room?
Of course, these ideas are silly. One could assume rather easily that Toews speaks – and, yes, yells – at his teammates almost daily and that his now-famous speech that fateful day in St. Louis has really nothing to do with the Hawks’ winning streak. The truth is that national journalists know – let’s say – about 1% of what happens among the Blackhawks while they’re off the ice. Using any part of that 1% to explain a winning streak – or, in this case, a Hary Trophy candidacy – is quite maddening to me.
– As for his actual candidacy, Toews is now the Hawks leading scorer and within the NHL’s top-10 in scoring. As the team’s captain and a player known throughout the league as a player who produces without necessarily scoring, he should legitimately push other candidates like Steven Stamkos or Nicklas Lidstrom.
– We’ve all taken notice of the fact that “Brian Bickell” and “front of the net” don’t necessarily go together, but seeing him with his arms raised just outside the crease was an odd, odd sight.
– The Hawks are in Toronto this evening, but given that Kris Versteeg was traded a couple of weeks ago to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Hawks won’t face their former teammate this season without a rematch of last year’s NHL Finals. Foreshadowing anyone?