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* * * * *

Has the Identity of the Blackhawks Returned?

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  By PSR

Two seasons, two first-round playoff exits, two new division champions, a lockout, and finally a breath of fresh air; timeline-wise this is how the Chicago Blackhawks have fared since Patrick Kane netted the odd Stanley Cup clinching goal.

Seemingly endless banter about the team has been created by odd moves, over the top expectations and mainly, the failure to return to the electrifying team we experienced for two seasons. For two seasons the almost infantile Hawks took us fans on a roller coaster ride. In 2008-09 we saw them rip through a circus road trip that for almost a decade marked the point were the season turned for the worse, showcased in the NHL’s best in the Winter Classic, won the division, and most importantly succeed in the playoffs. The next season they delivered what every fan dreams of.

Although the team has been successful on paper, in the standings and crossed the threshold into the post-season, the two seasons in between the Cup victory were as flat as a Coke from 1998. Watching a team with six bonafide all stars rank behind Columbus Blue Jackets on the power play is something that can be difficult to process. Seeing a team almost unresponsive when a teammate is laid out on the ice is something hockey fans just are not used to. Overall the consensus from fans and the league has been that we simply lost the intangibles that made us that good just a few years back. All around sports fans hear about the “it” factor, and from the role players and locker room guys, to guys who are now creating their legacies elsewhere, the feeling about the Hawks was we simply do not have “it”.

Intangible is defined as not able to be touched or grasped, and up until the start of this year the theme to return to greatness appeared perfectly tangible. Simply grab a center, tough defenseman, improve special teams, etc… yet the scintillating start of this season has taught me otherwise.

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In this short mini-series of a season as I’ll call it, my critiques of the team have slapped me in the face. The bottom line with Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger, two guys who at one point hoped to take a top-six role, have created chemistry and represented role-playing that we have not seen since 2010. Frolik, a 10th overall pick in 2006 seems to have taken his 4th line spot as something he’s been destined for, great fore-checking, boundless energy, amassed 17 shots, solid shifts and with Kruger provides a penalty kill that actually makes Don Cherry appreciate some European softies.

Prominence on the blue line has returned as well. Johnny Oduya seems to be the Brian Campbell imposter that Niklas Hjalmarsson needed to prove why Doug Wilson drove up his salary a few years back. In turn, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are not being overused like Mark Prior and can return to the titans of the blue line we have always known. On top of these lines, our baptism by fire or trial and error experiment with Nick Leddy has paid dividends. His game has elevated in every facet, along the boards, offensively, mentally, the list goes on, his time on ice is way down, but oddly in the best way possible. Everyone recalls the last time we rolled three great, balanced, and effective lines on defense.

There is no doubt this short compressed season will be an odd one, yet already there are more parallels to be drawn to the team we all have been yearning to get back to. It is far too early to predict anything, and six games are far too small of a sample to think everything will keep up this way. But that flat Coke we have tasted the past two seasons has without a doubt been washed away with unbridled optimism.

A whopping six games in and this team has already shed many critics from the off-season. That may include me in a few weeks but until then I will sit and enjoy the show, win lose or draw, or that stupid skills competition the games now go into.
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