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Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Hawks soaring early in the season

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- It's still too early to talk serious hockey in Bears Country, so you might not know Patrick Kane is off to a slow start.

Well, slow compared to the incendiary Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.

Kane had only two goals going into Wednesday, while Hossa had a league-high seven and Sharp six in seven games.

Kane probably has been taking the big shots since he started skating, but even he was surprised to be in the third slot, over Hossa, in Wednesday's shootout against the Vancouver Canucks.

Hossa went into the game leading the NHL in scoring with a seven-game points streak. He nearly made it eight with a breakaway chance in overtime, but he skipped a shot off Roberto Luongo's pad.

Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane's shootout goal proved to be the difference for the Hawks on Wednesday.

Maybe that miscue pushed him down a notch on the shootout roster, or maybe Kane's big-shot reputation superseded his current performance. Regardless, Kane came through, bouncing a shot off Luongo's right leg, through the five-hole and into the net for the game winner. Jonathan Toews and Sharp scored the first two goals, and Vancouver's Mikael Samuelsson missed wide to end the game.

"I was surprised I was going, to be honest with you, especially with the way Sharpie and Hossa have been playing," Kane said. "I thought I was going to be the fourth guy, because Tazer is pretty much automatic these days. So it was nice to score on my chance. I know I got a little lucky, but I'll take it."

Why didn't Joel Quenneville use Hossa?

"I think he was coming up soon," Quenneville said with a chuckle. "It's not a bad call, either one. I'm glad I have that luxury."

The Blackhawks have nearly picked up where they left off the last time drive-by fans paid serious attention to the team.

Chicago's 2-1 win was its fourth straight, and the defending champion sits atop the Western Conference. Four of the five wins have been by one goal.

Hey, maybe that "One Goal" slogan should be resurrected.

"That's probably the way it's going to be all season for us, especially after winning last year," Kane said. "Teams are going to be ready to play. Another big one for us to continue the winning streak, so we've got to be happy."

Fourth-liner Viktor Stalberg scored the Hawks' only goal in regulation at the end of the first period, and Marty Turco stopped 36 shots, including eight in overtime.

Viktor Stalberg
Viktor Stalberg scored the Hawks' only goal in regulation Wednesday.

As early returns go, the Blackhawks are earning their revered status in the city and maybe surprising a few experts around the league. Few hockey pundits have picked the Blackhawks to repeat this season, thanks to the salary cap exodus and the struggles previous Stanley Cup champions have had in repeating.

It wasn't a pretty start, but Chicago is picking up steam, and three of the next four games are at home.

I'm not versed in NHL mathematics, but I know a win counts the same in October as it does in April, so it's important to get off to a good start.

Actually, knowing the NHL, an overtime win before December is probably worth only three-quarters of a point. Not sure whether that number goes down if it's a weekday win.

But you get my point.

"We're getting there," Kane said. "One thing for this team is we find ways to win. So we won four in a row; hopefully we can continue this streak. We feel we have a really good team in here, as good as last year. Right now we're trying to get comfortable with everyone you're playing with and comfortable with the guys on ice, the new defensemen. Once we get [Brian Campbell] back from injury, that will help a lot."

The pace of the game picked up significantly late in the third period and through overtime, which I guess shows the NBA and NHL aren't that different.

Turco made a number of amazing saves, proving again he was worth the gamble of letting Antti Niemi walk. The only goal he let up was a power-play shot in front of the net at the start of the third.

I'd like to describe it better for you, but I was eating a between-periods taco.

I had to ask one of the real hockey writers.

Hey, it's early for writers, too.

Watching from high atop the United Center, the on-ice animosity between the Canucks and Blackhawks wasn't at the level where it left off in the playoffs this past spring, but again, it's early.

Is the rivalry between the teams still heated? The fans still think the goalie's name is Roberto Boo-ongo, but the play looked about as heated as the Dunkin' Donuts race.

I think Cuppy Coffee could've skated a shift without spilling.

An episode of "Teen Mom" is more violent.

The Canucks manhandled more Minnesota fans Tuesday.

"I know," Kane said. "It's an early game of the season; it takes a little while to get going. But I think it is. Obviously we lost some players and they lost some players, so it's a little bit different makeup for both teams, but I think the rivalry's definitely there."

A lot has changed since last season, but the Blackhawks looked pretty familiar to me.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.