The Hawks are off to the best start in team history. There has never been a Hawks team that started out 6-0. There are three reasons that the Hawks are 6-0 as they enter their next phase of the season.
The defense of the Hawks has improved in leaps and bounds since the end of last year. For a team that returned their top five on defense what has been the key? It could be that Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have benefitted from having nine months off to rest and rejuvenate their legs. Another reason could be having Johnny Oduya for a whole season. The presence of Oduya seems to have help Niklas Hjalmarsson rediscover the form that he showed in the Stanley Cup season. In fact, the Hawks with the two biggest plus minus ratings are Oduya and Hjalmarsson. During the first eighth of the season it has been noticeable that the Hawks defense has been coming up and challenging plays at the blue line. The aggressiveness of the Hawks defense is allowing them to cut off plays before they begin. This allows the defense to transition quicker to offense and cuts down on time the Hawks have to spend in their own zone on defense. As the games pile up it will be interesting to see if the energy level on defense can be sustained.
The defense has also helped out Corey Crawford. Now to be fair, the Hawks have gotten caught in their own zone where they are on their heels multiple times. But a recurring theme in the early part of the season is Crawford bailing them out time and time again with big save. Crawford is 5-0 with a 1.78 goal against average and a save percentage of .933. Whether it is simplifying the game or improved technique, Crawford is playing extremely well and coming up big in the clutch. In games against St. Louis, Detroit and Columbus, Crawford had to fend off late rushes in the third period to win the game or get it into overtime. In the third periods of those games Crawford saved 29 of 33 shots when the opposition was throwing everything at the net. This season Crawford has looked more composed and confident in his positioning and technique. Five games do not make a season for Crawford but his improved play has been a pleasant surprise so far.
The last reason for success has been the improved special teams play. Entering Tuesday the Hawks were tenth in the NHL with a 25.9 percent conversion rate on the power play. The Hawks are 7 for 27 on the power play and have scored a power play goal in five of their six games. It was incomprehensible that the Hawks were so bad on the power play last year. This year the Hawks have been focusing on getting opposing penalty killers to move their feet instead of staying still. While they can be guilty of trying to be too fancy the Hawks are scoring in a multitude of ways on the power play. Whether it is in the slot like Jonathan Toews or in front of the net like Dave Bolland, the Hawks have gotten their power play goals from a variety of players. In fact, the Hawks have seven players who have scored a power play goal. Toews, Bolland, Keith, Seabrook, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have all scored a power play goal.
Meanwhile the Hawks were second in the NHL on the penalty kill at 95.7 percent only allowing one power play goal. Last year the Hawks were at the bottom of the league in both the power play and the penalty kill. On the penalty kill the Hawks have gone away from relying on just their stars. Instead the most impressive group on the penalty kill has included Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger. Kruger and Frolik have been aggressive in blocking shots and not giving players stationed at the point time to load up and shoot. While Toews, Hossa and Sharp still kill penalties, Joel Quenneville has worked to limit their time in order to keep his stars fresh for later in games.
Nobody expected the Hawks to go 6-0 especially in a lockout shortened season. But the Hawks have been able to thrive because of their stellar play. The improved focus on defense has improved the play in the defensive zone. Corey Crawford has been great so far and special teams have improved by leaps and bounds from last year. A great start was necessary for the Hawks this year, but nobody could have seen this coming.