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Defense powers Blackhawks to 6-0 start

1/28/2013

CHICAGO -- Ask Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith who his team’s next opponent is and he might not be able to answer it. Same goes for goalie Corey Crawford, and, more than likely, a few other Hawks as well.

One key to Chicago’s franchise-record 6-0 start -- especially in this 48-game shortened season -- is a tunnel vision approach to each day. The Hawks are focused.

“I don’t think we’re looking ahead,” Keith said Sunday after scoring a goal in the Hawks' 2-1 OT win over Detroit. “I don’t even know who we’re playing next or when the next game is. We’re doing a good job of staying in the moment and taking it game by game.”

It’s about the only way to explain an unexplainable start to the season. Six games in nine days after a five-day training camp with a roster that just weeks ago was spread out over several continents.

“Commend the guys,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Johnny [Toews] conditioning or skating the guys before going into it. The guys who were playing overseas, the attitude, the approach.”

It doesn’t hurt that everything that went wrong a year ago has turned itself around in the early going. Once again, special teams helped the Hawks to a win on Sunday. Keith’s power-play goal got them going on offense in the first period, but it was penalty killing that shone for them. Six kills, including four straight in the second period, was a key to the win. Down two men during that time frame didn’t help matters in the fatigue department -- but the Hawks held strong.

“I’m not gassed, but I am looking forward to my day off. I’ll tell you that much,” Keith said.

And that’s what makes the streak even more impressive. It’s hard to win six in nine days at any point in any season. Two have gone to overtime and the past four have been nail-biters, with the Hawks winning each by just a goal. That’s more than good fortune at play; that’s a singular focus on each game as it comes.

“Guys were in good shape coming into camp, and we got off on the right foot,” Viktor Stalberg said after assisting on the game winner. “We’re finding ways to win.”

Stalberg and Nick Leddy played sparingly on Sunday due to the high number of penalty kills, but when they were needed in overtime -- while others were fatigued -- they came through with the game-winning goal.

“[The schedule] wears on anyone, but we’ve stuck to our system and done a great job,” Leddy said.

If anyone had a singular focus to the start of the season, it’s Crawford. Claiming he needed to prove he was worthy of staying the No. 1 goalie, he has done just that. He saw a team in front of him on Sunday that was gassed from mid-game on, which meant they needed him even more. He delivered and was awarded the No. 1 star of the game.

“We were just focused on the first game of the season. And after that one was done you kind of erase it and get ready for the next one,” he said. “That seems to be the mentality of the whole team.

“Everyone is just going about their business.”

And the proof of that is a franchise record six straight wins to start the season. A day off is the least they’ve earned.