Maybe the gap is being closed between the almighty Chicago Blackhawks and everyone else. In 2013, the Hawks domination bordered on unbelievable – logically, it can’t be sustainable. Yet, last night, when Alex Steen scored to give the St. Louis Blues a 3-2 lead with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, I thought, the Hawks will probably tie this game. The reputation they earned last year will linger for a while.
This is a huge season for the Blues. They have a bunch of forwards and two goaltenders to re-sign in the upcoming offseason, so there is a chance this group won’t look the same when the 2014-15 NHL season kicks off. The current Blues roster, is heavily favoured to challenge for the Stanley Cup this spring. Last night’s entertaining win was a sign that they might be ready for a lengthy Cup run.
The Hawks are still great, obviously. Last year’s Presidents Trophy winner could repeat the feat and we would all yawn and say, “who didn’t see that coming?” But, NHL history suggests their performance from last season is unmatchable in 2013-14. If last evening’s contest occurred last season, it’s a Hawk who wins it with 21 seconds on the board – that’s the type of year they had.
Alex Steen was quite possibly the best player on the ice for either team in what turned out to be the best game of the NHL season, thus far. He was all over the ice, all over the puck, constantly forcing turnovers and creating offensive opportunities. Justice was served when he scored the game-winning-goal.
The Hawks puck possession game was at its best for many stretches throughout last night’s early season classic, particularly through the middle of the ice. Something about the wave of attack from defenders Duncan Keith, Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya allows the Hawks to ease through prevention methods in place by even the best neutral zone teams in the league. The Blues are one of the best, without question. However, once set up in the Blues’ zone, there wasn’t space to create for superstars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. The Blues defend extremely well 5 on 5. The Hawks had their chances, but they didn’t enjoy too many second chances.
It took the Chicago Blackhawks twenty-five games to lose in regulation last season – this year, it took three. They’re doomed! Okay, well that’s not true. Toews and his associates are too strong to expect anything less than a comfortable top three finish in the Central Division. They may even play in the Stanley Cup finals again. But, the perfection of last season is going to be nearly impossible to duplicate.