Blackhawks stay hot, Crawford pitches a shutout in Nashville - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Blackhawks stay hot, Crawford pitches a shutout in Nashville

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A great road trip ends with the first Chicago Blackhawk shutout in 102 games. Corey Crawford last posted a zero on March 23, 2011 but on Sunday night in Nashville he led the Blackhawks to a 3-0 victory. The score was flattering to the Predators as they chased the puck for much of the night and couldn't generate any offense. Nashville recorded a mere 17 shots, with only seven coming in the opening 40 minutes.

Crawford made a few nice saves during the third period to preserve his shutout but in this contest the Preds were no match. Crawford was strong but this was another complete team effort. The Hawks are playing solid fundamental hockey and the points continue to accumulate. The best players are doing their part but they don't have to shoulder the whole load. In the defensive zone the Hawks have been very efficient. In many ways the offense starts with the Blackhawk defensemen as their outlet passes trigger the transition game.

The Hawks ended up 4-0-2 on the road trip and will finally return to home ice to face the Anaheim Ducks. Usually the last game of a long road swing and the first game coming back home are difficult challenges. The first half of the test was not an issue. No doubt an eager United Center crowd will be on hand to welcome back the troops and to help urge them past Anaheim.

The Blackhawks have not suffered a regulation loss in their first 12 games. Interestingly, Tuesday's opponent the Ducks set the NHL record by not losing in regulation during the opening 16 games of the 2006 campaign. Not to count chickens before they hatch, as 12 games is not 16, but Anaheim won the Stanley Cup that season.

Patrick Kane appears to be in the finest physical condition of his career. Kane puts forth a lot of effort on every shift including back checking. Lugging the puck, creating space and making great plays takes an enormous amount of energy but Kane never seems to tire. To end the road trip, Kane recorded three shots and one goal during his 19:21 performance. The best news for Blackhawk loyalists is at 24 years of age, Kane probably hasn't entered the prime of his career yet.

Now that one quarter of the season has been played let's review what I wrote before the season opener. If you recall I painted the very optimistic scenario below in a January 18 On The Blackhawks column.

Just imagine if…

New addition Brandon Saad will find a role as top six forward and be a pleasant surprise. Neither Andrew Shaw nor Viktor Stalberg is a flash in the pan. Nick Leddy relishes slightly reduced playing time and finally gets a chance to be an effective power play performer. Dave Bolland will seamlessly step up and become a fine second line center. Daniel Carcillo will learn how to aggravate and stay out of the penalty box. Niklas Hjalmarsson will perform with the same confidence he had a few years ago. The concussion issues for Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews will not resurface. Patrick Kane will be a point per game player. Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell will perform their roles to a tee and become valuable contributors. Duncan Keith's shooting percentage will be much higher than the dismal 2.5 percent of last season which will lead to power play success. Crawford and Ray Emery will be solid in net and they will not be pointed to as weak links.

As we know, all of the above won't happen but enough may come about to help the Blackhawks become a much improved team.

It is very interesting how many of those lofty expectations have been fulfilled so far. Some luck has helped, but for the most part the Blackhawks deserve their outstanding record. Fortunately, except for Daniel Carcillo and Michal Rozsival the injury bug hasn't bitten. If the Hawks can roll into the playoffs while staying healthy, this could be a special year.

For now the upcoming seven game homestand features difficult opponents, so it won't be easy. It certainly would throw some cold water on the buzz if the Hawks don't take advantage of home ice. Joel Quenneville will work hard to keep the focus and will be looking for any signs of complacency.

The Blackhawks won't capture 22 of the next 24 points but a successful homestand could provide a very nice cushion in the standings.

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