Just as the coaches do internally, every 10 games I'll give you an assessment of the Blackhawks. At 5-4-1, the jury is still out on what kind of a season it will be. Of course, up 2-0 on Saturday night against Columbus, they were one period and about 30 seconds away from a 6-3-1 record, which looks a whole lot better. Here are 10 things to know about the first 10 games.
10. The Schedule: Ok, enough has been made of it lately. There is no reason to harp on it some more. Yes, the Hawks got to 10 games faster than any other team in the league -- in the span of 17 days. But the real issue was where and how those 10 games were played. Back and forth, home and road. If the Hawks had a five-game homestand followed by a five game road trip -- even in the same 17-day span -- it would not have been as big a deal, but that's not what happened. In fact, they haven't played two in a row on the road yet and have had just one homsetand that lasted three games. This prevented Joel Quenneville from scheduling practice time. Just twice on non-game days did the Hawks take to the ice. That's ok late in the season but not now, not with as much roster turnover as the Hawks had. No wonder, in describing some of the Hawks poor play the word sloppy has been used by players and Quenneville alike. Things tend to get sloppy when you can't practice.
9. The MVP: It's a tough call between numbers 81 and 10, but Hossa gets the slight nod because his first seven games were simply out of this world. He's admittedly playing more relaxed than ever after finally winning the Cup, and until a couple games ago he was simply finishing all his scoring chances. Hearing a world class player talk of playing with less pressure and more confidence emphasizes that the mental part of the game always plays a part. See Cristobal Huet or even Troy Brouwer for evidence in the other direction. A confident, relaxed Hossa with this skill and skating ability should produce an 80-point season, easy.
8. The Sniper: Sharp has re-emerged as the Hawks best pure finisher, and after Hossa, maybe the team's smartest player. He knows where to go without the puck and he knows what to do when he gets it. Sharp has 38 shots on net, just behind three guys named Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin. His 13-shot, two-goal night against Columbus in Game 5 of the season was a dominating effort. It's a better recipe for him to continue the run at wing, but it doesn't look like that will happen. Wing or center, Sharp is off to a great start and if it breaks right, 50 goals are not out of the question. He's on pace for 65.
7. The Other Stars: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane -- if it's possible -- have flown under the radar because of Hossa and Sharp. Toews has mostly been good in all areas, as usual, but he's left some goals on the ice in what some might start to call a traditionally slow start. Having said that, he has seven points in 10 games. It's not that slow. Kane, meanwhile, is still as dynamic as ever with the puck. Yes, he's minus-7, but that's not how you judge Kane. He needs the puck more, though, because without it, he's just out for a Sunday skate. He's not a sniper type like Sharp. He's a playmaker. His seven points have come in nine games. Expect him to push above a point per game average. Duncan Keith is minus-3 to start the season, and that says all that needs to be said about his start. Always a stand up guy in the dressing room, he doesn't sound pleased with his play. Meanwhile, Brent Seabrook has promised more offense and he's giving it. Two goals, three assists is a nice start as he has found himself down near the goal line on more than one occasion.
6. And The Others: Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland are off to slow starts, though Brouwer is getting on the scoresheet some. He needs to be more aggressive. Bolland is at 41 percent in the faceoff circle, not good for a defensive guru. Tomas Kopecky has done all he can do. Complaints about him have to move to the coaching staff. He is what he is: A grinder, with some heart and a good shot. If his hands aren't first line material, don't blame him. He doesn't make the lineup. Bottom line: Kopecky is maxing out his talents and doing it by taking a beating in front of the opposing goaltender. Kane described him as unique. He doesn't look for tip-ins, Kopecky is truly just trying to screen the netminder. That's a selfless act and it has shown up in the boxscore to the tune of a goal and seven helpers.
5. The Newcomers: None has stood out like Marty Turco in some crunch time wins. If not for his back-to-back 7- and 8-save overtime performances the Hawks record would look a lot worse. Plus, he's won his lone shootout. There have been some goals he'd like to have back, but after giving up some tough, late ones early on, before Quenneville made a surprise move to Corey Crawford for a couple games, Turco has responded. The new fourth line has had their moments as Jack Skille, Viktor Stalberg, and Jake Dowell continue to make some noise, but that third line is still MIA. Fernando Pisani's first ten games: no points, minus-3, 10 total shots. Has Pat Foley called his name yet?
4. Campbell Affect: Another issue that has received a lot of publicity and rightly so is the absence of Brian Campbell to an injured MCL. The Hawks are designed for success through their top four defensemen. Lose one and the whole system seems to break down. Ok, maybe that's a bit dramatic but the sentiment is right on. Quenneville has his D-men involved in everything and just think about the trickle- down effect the loss of Brian Campbell has had. Is there any doubt Niklas Hjalmarsson would be better than minus-6 with zero points if Campbell were skating with him? Is there any doubt Keith would be playing less than about 75 minutes a game? The one silver lining has been the play of Nick Boynton. He's played his butt off. Yes, there have been some harrowing moments but for a player expected to contribute about 10-15 minutes a night, he's averaging 22:27 per game. That's good for 51st in the league. Not bad for a guy who was banished to the minors before coming to Chicago late last season.
3. Power Up: Quietly, the Hawks power play is off to a very good start. Goals in eight of ten games tell the story. They're connecting at a 26.5 percent clip, good for third in the league. Patrick Sharp is thriving as a defenseman on one unit. He'll move down to the half boards with Patrick Kane on the other side and Duncan Keith in the middle at the point. It makes for a deadly trio of puck handlers. Dave Bolland and Brent Seabrook man the point on the other unit and Bolland doesn't seem to be as comfortable as Sharp in that role. Either way, with Tomas Kopecky doing some screening in front of the net, it's been about a successful as you could expect with little practice time. It's early but now that it's in the top 5 in the league, there's no reason it shouldn't stay there.
2. Statistically Speaking: There is only one statistic that matters, and it is telling: Shots on goal and shots given up. It can be misleading, like time of possession in football, but not for the Hawks. It tells a story of their puck possession game. And through ten games, which is still a small sample size, the story isn't a good one. The Hawks led the world in shot differential last season, but right now they are giving up more (34) than they are taking (30). That former number is good for twenty fourth in the league. That is not Blackhawk hockey. It's a testament to their talent they have the record they do. Campbell's return will make a difference, so will some practice time, and so will some chemistry building. Those numbers need to reverse themselves and the Hawks will be on their way.
1. The Finest of Lines: Though they've played the most games overall it doesn't diminish the fact that the Hawks also lead the league in one-goal affairs, with an astounding eight. Another game had a late power play tally add-on goal or that number would have been nine. Thirty percent have also gone to overtime. Is this the Hawks way this season, with a short summer and new roster? It doesn't mean their record has to be any worse, it just means it's going to be a whole lot tougher getting there. Or will the chemistry emerge and a few easier nights be at hand? The next 10 will start to answer those questions.