It’d be tough to say that the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings are still the NHL’s best team. On Sunday, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated them for the second time this season (2-0).
Just like they did on January 19th, the Blackhawks dominated most of the game against the Kings on national television, looking like the all-around better team with the nation’s eyes upon them.
But that would all be a small side note if it weren’t for one main factor … Chicago is undefeated. That’s right, un-de-feat-ed. And that’s not something you can say very often.
Back in 2006, the Anaheim Ducks didn’t lose a game in regulation (different than winning every game) through their first 16 matchups, an NHL record. The Blackhawks are now in 2nd place on that all-time list, not having lost through their first 15 games (12-0-3) with a chance to tie the Ducks’ record on Tuesday night against the very capable Vancouver Canucks.
But whether Chicago ties the record, edges it out, blows it away, or doesn’t reach it at all is not what I want our current topic of discussion to be. The team will be sure to get a lot of coverage going forward, and deservingly so. It’s probably even fair to say that they’ll be one of, if not the absolute favorite to win the Stanley Cup until their season is done or until they do indeed hoist the prestigious trophy.
It’s time to give respect to the two young stars that are the driving forces behind this Chicago team – and although they’re both only 24 years of age, they are already in their sixth season as difference-makers at the United Center.
It’s Captain and Kaner’s Time to Shine … Again
Jonathan Toews, the 3rd overall draft pick out of the University of North Dakota in 2006 has not disappointed while serving as the Blackhawks’ captain. So far, the youngster has 337 points to his name (goals + assists), which is an average of just under 1 per game. His best statistical season came in 2010-2011 when he had 76 points (32 goals, 44 assists), though he’s just now entering the prime of his career.
Patrick Kane was selected 1st overall by the Blackhawks in the 2007 draft, and had his best campaign in 2009-2010 when he had 88 points (30 goals, 58 assists). Like Toews, he also averages just under 1 point per game throughout his career (390 points total). He too obviously is expected to be entering his prime just now, as it appears he may be on pace to have his best season yet in 2013 (21 points through 14 games).
Both Toews and Kane’s names have been very recognizable ones for a few years already, but it looks like they’re now poised to join the upper-echelon and become full-blown superstars. Considering they play in a major city, for a city that loves their team, with big-time media support behind them, if they can keep pace with the high-level of play they’ve become accustomed to, they may reach those heights sooner rather than later.
And I can’t make it clear enough … they already deserve it.
The 2009-10 NHL season ended with the Blackhawks raising the Stanley Cup trophy, led by playoffs MVP (Conn Smythe Trophy recipient) Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who knocked in the series-clinching goal in walk-off fashion. Although they were only 22 and 21 years old respectively, it was clearly their time to shine.
Since then, the Blackhawks teams haven’t been quite as good due to being put in a tough financial situation after winning the Cup. Plus, Toews has battled injuries, and Kane has battled “immaturity issues,” but as I’ve mentioned already, the time is now.
Although veterans like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith are still in town and the Hawks getting superb goalie play from Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, it’s been Toews and Kane leading the way to the team’s 12-0-3 start. Kane and his 21 points are currently tied for 2nd in the NHL in points behind only Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek. Toews leadership has also been key, as his 9 +/- rating has him just outside of the league’s top 10.
Luckily for Chicago fans, the team’s depth should be able to keep their stars fresh, as the team has nobody in the NHL’s top 30 ‘time on ice per game’ category.
It takes a lot for NHL stars to be anywhere near the popularity level of the big names from other sports. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin’s stardom level are the biggest any recent stars have gotten in the past several years, and although that level may be tough for Toews and Kane to reach, they really are doing all they can to get there.
Considering how young, deep, and talented the Blackhawks are, it’s not ridiculous to assume they win another Stanley Cup within the next 2-3 years. If they do, led by Toews and Kane, Chicago will have their next big stars to share the stage with the Bulls’ Derrick Rose.
And that is something to get excited about whether you’re a hockey or Chicago fan or not. There’s nothing more enjoyable, from a sports consumer’s perspective, than watching young stars flourish, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now in the Madhouse on Madison.