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This Team Feels… Different

October 15, 2018, 8:30 AM ET [439 Comments]
Justin Lowe
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

Let's put the terrible powerplay and penalty kill aside, and let's not dwell too much on the roller coaster of losing leads and sloppy defensive play through 5 games.

What I would like to focus on is the overall "feel" of this team.

I loved John Dietz article where he brought to the surface that Jonathan Toews brought in a Navy SEAL to speak to the entire team before the Hawks first game of the season in Ottawa.

"It was a really good talk," said the 39-year-old Kunitz. "Guys that were here last year talked about some of the things that they thought were wrong with the team or why it didn't have success. (Source: Daily Herald)

After 3-0-2 start to the season and a Corey Crawford return around the corner, is there room for optimism? Maaayybee?

But I'm not going to go there quite yet. However, there are signs for Blackhawks fan to get excited that the 2018-19 team might not be the incompetent group of failures to some fans, and most talking heads predicted prior to the season opener.

Alex Debrincat scored the game-tying and game-winner in OT on Saturday night to give the Hawks 8 points out of 10. Good, right?

It hasn't been pretty, but with a healthy(ish) Crawford and the building of team chemistry, the Hawks could challenge for the playoff spot.

If you've followed my writing over the last year or so, you'll know that I'm a huge proponent of chemistry, and that's why liked John Dietz's article so much.

"It's already a different feel," Toews said. "We're already creating a different culture in this room as opposed to last year. Guys are excited. (Source: Daily Herald)

A contact told me that the Hawks core players and management really evaluated the inner workings of the Hawks dressing room and how it affected their play.

Take it for what you will but last year (and offseason) the Hawks rid themselves of Ryan Hartman, Rickard Panik, Anthony Duclair, Michal Kempny, Vincent Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle, Tomas Jucro, Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels, etc.

Whether some were moved/not signed due to business decisions, skill or character, we can't be sure. The fact is that the Hawks were looking to get better in all aspects of their team game.

"Who knows what's going to happen," Kane said. "I'm sure that will kind of be left up to management and coaches and us as players obviously throughout the off-season to rectify what went wrong this season and make sure it doesn't happen again." (Source: New York Times - March 2018)

While I have been critical of Stan Bowman's offseason "plan", he is looking pretty good right now.

So, why I am warming up to the idea of this Hawks team looking like they possibly turning the corner sooner than expected?

I do think Stan and the Hawks are still short a top 6 and/or 9 forward and top 4 D but there are some things that have been working out for the Hawks.

Dominik Kahun is looking like a real steal of signing for Stan. He's been a resident of the first line and clearly has the NHL skills to cut it and you can tell he can continue to get better the more he plays.

Mark Kelley and Stan opted to draft Henri Jokiharju 29th overall in the 2017 entry draft. While guys like Eeli Tolvanen, Klim Kostin and Nicolas Hague were still on the board, Stan went with the young Finn. Jokiharju's 21:09 TOI is 3rd on the team this season (behind Keith and Kane) and you can see it's the ask for him to play big minutes is only going to increase as the year goes on.

The re-acquisition of Marcus Kruger has been paying dividends. "Krugs" looks like the old "Krugs" and his play is helping Toews play his offensive game. Kruger has a whopping defensive zone of 95% (yes, you read that right) while Toews is starting most of his time in the offensive zone at 69%.

Cam Ward, Brandon Manning and Chris Kunitz were not flashy signings. I was not/have not been a big fan of this summer's free agency additions as they are role players at best (the signing of Ward was out of necessity) but it appears their insertion on the team was more of a character play than anything. All 3 of them could be criticized for their average play on the ice, but one cannot measure what they have meant inside the dressing room and fit with the team's overall chemistry.

"In 2010, one of the biggest reasons why we won was because of chemistry," Keith said. "We wanted to win it for each other." (Source: New York Times - March 2018)

This next part makes my brain and heart even happier. The "resurgence" of the core.

Jonathan Toews is back.

Said Toews: "(I) put a lot of pressure on myself to create offense and put numbers on the board. Sometimes when that didn't happen, it just seemed to snowball in the wrong direction. In some cases, maybe that pressure kind of trickled down and was applied to my linemates a little bit." (Source: Daily Herald - April 2018)

The Hawks needed this to happen in the worst way possible.

Captain Serious has 5 goals and 4 assists in the first 5 games. Ummm… good.

Better yet, he has a jump to him that has been overshadowing their 3 wins and 2 OT losses.

Toews has always been a competitor and while Debrincat is scoring some timely goals and looking good himself, Toews is the one running that line.

"I feel good," said Keith, who will be 35 in July. "I know my age. I know I'm not getting any younger. But at the same time, I don't feel old. I know that I have a lot left in the tank." (Source: Daily Herald - April 2018)

Duncan Keith, fresh off his 1,000 regular season game looks to be better than last year already. He won't ever be Norris-winning Keith, but he's been solid partnered with 19-year old Henri Jokiharju.

"I thought that we had some stretches there where our team game was pretty good. I thought as we had the second part of the year, I thought we got away from — whether it was structurally playing a real solid team game, which in the past has always been a strength — I thought we got away from that a little bit. (Source: NBC Sports – April 2018)

Brent Seabrook has been quietly playing well too. He didn't mesh well with Manning, but he looks a step quicker this year and the Hawks will need him to remain quietly strong.

Maybe Bowman and Co. knew what they were doing. Then again, maybe they are just getting really lucky with these early points. Regardless, the Hawks are getting points when they need them most and if Corey Crawford is truly close to returning, the Hawks might be in great shape, heading to "Bubble Town".

Keep in mind that Gustav Forsling is only about a week away and Connor Murphy will return in December. Will they disrupt the chemistry the Hawks seem to have going on or will they be able to help solidify the Hawks shaky defence?

I won't pretend this team is a Stanley Cup contender however, it's impossible for me not to get excited about this team's start.

Leaving you with a couple quotes. One from Stan from April of this year and the next from Patrick Kane after the 2017-18 season ended as well:

A fuming Bowman said it was "unacceptable to be where we are today." He was frustrated and angry, and called the season "a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves." (Source: Daily Herald - April 2018)

"If anything, it has kind of humbled a lot of us in here and it could be a good thing," Kane said. "Come back with a little more of an edge next season."
(Source: Chicago Tribune – March 2018)

The Hawks don't play until Thursday this week and there will be plenty of "is Crawford playing?" narrative leading up to it.

I will be around to updates along the way.

See ya out there,

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