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Sunday, January 27, 2013
Five to watch: Kane, Hawks riding high

By Scott Powers

Heading into Sunday night’s matchup with the Detroit Red Wings, here are five things to watch with the Chicago Blackhawks:

1. Kane at his best: Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is off to the best start of his career. He has nine points, including two goals and seven assists, through five games. He’s notched at least one point in all five games. His previous best was seven points through the first five games of the 2009-10 season.

Kane didn’t record nine points over any five-game stretch last season. The Blackhawks are hopeful Kane’s blazing start means he’s back to his 2009-10 form where he had four different points streaks which lasted seven games or more. That season Kane had one seven-game streak in which he had 10 points, a nine-game one with 13 points, another nine-game one with 13 points and a 11-game one with 18 points.

Chicago Blackhawks
Goaltender Corey Crawford (right) and the Blackhawks are off to a fast start.
2. Consistent Crawford: Consistency is what the Blackhawks want most from goaltender Corey Crawford, and he’s been the definition of that through his first four starts.

His performances have varied during each game. He’s been average, good and great at times this season. But at the end of each game, the result has been the same. Crawford has allowed two goals every time. No more, no less, just two goals.

Crawford leads the NHL with a 4-0-0 record, is ninth with a 1.99 goals-against average and is tied for 12th with a .923 save percentage.

3. Flashback: The Blackhawks matched the franchise’s best start to a season with their fifth consecutive win on Saturday. The only other team to accomplish that feat was the 1971-72 team.

So how did that team end up? The Blackhawks finished the season with 107 points and a record of 46-17-15. Bobby Hull scored 50 goals in the regular season. The Blackhawks won their quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but were swept by the Rangers in the semifinals. The Rangers were defeated by the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup.

4. Reducing minutes: Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he was going to make resting his star players a priority this season. Through five games, he’s lived up to his word.

Last season, defenseman Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were both among the top 20 players in the NHL in time on ice per game. Keith ranked second with 26:54, and Seabrook was 17th with 24:43. This season, Keith’s minutes have been reduced to 23:31, and Seabrook is down to 22:34.

Quenneville has also cut back on his forwards. Jonathan Toews ranked 14th among forwards last season at 20:51 per game, and he’s been limited to 18:36 this season. Kane was 24th last year at 20:12, and he’s down to 19:35.

5. Special special teams: The Blackhawks knew they had to get better at their power play and penalty kill this season. Both areas were a weakness last season. In their five wins, those areas have been a strength.

The Blackhawks rank second with a 94.1 penalty kill percentage. They’ve allowed just one power-play goal in 17 chances. Only the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders, who both haven’t allowed a power-play goal, have been better this year. Last season, the Blackhawks had a 78.1 percentage.

As for the power play, the Blackhawks are tied for 10th at 25.0 percent. They’ve scored six goals on 24 opportunities. Last season, they had a 15.2 percentage.