Everything falling into place for Hawks
March, 2, 2011
By Jesse Rogers
Jerry Lai/US PresswireJonathan Toews has played himself into consideration for the Hart Trophy.He was just named the first star in the NHL for February, and it's no coincidence the Jonathan Toews-led Chicago Blackhawks just completed their best month of the season.
The Hawks went 8-3-2 while Toews racked up 21 points in the 13 games, including an astounding eight multi-point efforts.
Toews has done it all. His passing has been spot on, he's shooting more, and finishing chances, as he did against Phoenix and Minnesota in the final two games of the month. The result in those games? Three goals, two assists and two wins.
"You can look back over the last month or so," Joel Quenneville said. "He's been a force, dominating all aspects and areas of the game."
Could Toews be playing himself into Hart Trophy consideration? It's given to the most valuable player in the league. Sidney Crosby was running away with the award until a concussion sidelined him. The door might be open for Toews.
With 61 points in 61 games, he's reached the coveted point-per-game plateau any MVP candidate needs. Add his incredible leadership and simple desire to succeed, and we might still see the best of him yet to come.
But Toews isn't winning games on his own. Corey Crawford's exploits are well documented, but he's been the same all season. So what's been the difference for a team which failed to get on any kind of a streak until the current one, in which they've earned at least a point in nine of ten games?
"We just realize the importance of it all," Duncan Keith simply stated recently.
And that's translated to smarter, more efficient hockey. Simple plays can be boring to watch, but the cliché holds true for a reason: Hockey is a game of mistakes. Whoever makes the least of them usually wins. The Hawks aren't scrambling all over the ice anymore. They're playing smart, intelligent hockey while limiting those mistakes.
Their sixth period of hockey in 24 hours on Monday night wasn't the prettiest, but the first 40 minutes were a thing of beauty. The most important aspect of their game right now is the Hawks are taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them on offense and not trying to force anything.
Once they get that opportunity, they're like sharks in the water who smell blood. Especially the line of Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. If they stick together for a period of years, assuming all are here, it might go down as one of the best lines in franchise history.
Norm Hall/Getty ImagesBrent Seabrook also has experienced a resurgence on the ice.
But no analysis of the Hawks current run can be complete without a look at the blue line.
The pairing of Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy has been brilliant. And the trickle down effect on the rest of the defense has been just as smooth.
If Keith and Brent Seabrook can put whatever fatigue or issues they were facing behind them, and return to elite hockey for the stretch run, all will be forgotten. In fact, they've already turned it around becoming plus players, for seemingly the first time all season.
Leddy's arc has been amazing. Back home in Minnesota on Monday for the first time, he spoke of playing college hockey there just a year ago at this time.
Since early February, and being paired with Keith, his minutes have shot up while his steady play has stayed the same. He's 19. On Sunday, he played a career high 23:11 followed up on Monday with 18:27. He's quietly filling in on the penalty kill for a hurting Niklas Hjalmarsson, and he hasn't missed a step. The Hawks took six minutes of penalties in a crucial third period on Monday against the Wild. Leddy was on the ice for a third of that time, and the Hawks killed all three penalties while scoring a shorthanded goal.
The defense is making less mistakes, the offense is playing opportunistic, and their goaltender is on fire. Add an MVP type month out of their captain, and the Hawks are becoming who we thought they could be last September: A dangerous playoff team.