DALLAS — The Blackhawks have killed off 15 straight penalties. They’ve won five straight games. They’ve gone 6-0-1 in their last seven.
And here’s the good news: They’re really not playing all that well. At least, not as well as they’d like to.
“For sure, and I think that’s a good sign,” Jonathan Toews said after the Hawks staved off the injury-ravaged Dallas Stars for a tense 3-2 victory at American Airlines Center on Saturday night. “I don’t think anyone [even] realizes that we’re on a little streak like that.”
So even though his team is — from a standings perspective, at least — scorching hot, Joel Quenneville still has plenty of things to nitpick. And he can start with the starts. The Hawks’ current trend of starting slow and rallying for victories is quite obviously unsustainable. History says so. Logic says so. Even the Hawks say so.
“I don’t think you want to keep playing that way, because you know it’s not going to work like that for the long haul,” Quenneville said. “Finding a way to play the right way from start to finish makes you effective.”
Well, Richard Panik scored 11 seconds into Saturday night’s game, crashing the net along with Toews to poke a Patrick Kane sharp-angle rebound past Antti Niemi. Yet the Hawks still started slowly, finding themselves down 2-1 after another lackluster first period.
“It was nice,” Toews said of the quick goal. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do much after that.”
The Hawks spent the next several minutes on their heels, and by the end of the first period, they were trailing 2-1 thanks to goals by Brett Ritchie and Curtis McKenzie. Ritchie beat Corey Crawford from the slot, and McKenzie had a Stephen Johns rebound bank in off his skate. Crawford, who was very sharp in the opening minutes, had allowed just one goal in his last three starts, and just four even-strength goals all season until those two. He still finished with 30 saves, and his play down the stretch allowed the Hawks to escape with the win.
The first period was the eighth time in 12 games that the Hawks gave up at least 11 shots (it was 12 on Saturday). The Hawks had 12 shots, too, but most of them were relatively harmless and from wide angles or far away.
“It wasn’t as poor as our other first periods, and we had some chances,” Quenneville said. “But it’s still not good enough. That’s the part where we have to be better, at the start.”
As has been the case lately, the Hawks picked it up after the first period. Ryan Hartman tied it at 2-2 on a blast from the top of the right circle after Tyler Motte rang one off the post during a delayed penalty. It was Hartman’s best game — Kane called him “special” and Quenneville deemed him “outstanding” — and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, with Andrew Desjardins likely returning to the lineup Sunday in the return match against the Stars and someone due to come out of the lineup.
Kane gave the Hawks a 3-2 lead 19 seconds into a power play when Artem Anisimov mishandled a rebound, then slipped a deft pass to Kane, who was left alone as the Stars converged on Anisimov, who extended his point streak to 10 games. The Hawks failed to score on a double-minor later in the period after Devin Shore caught Motte with a high-stick in the face — Motte took a puck to the upper lip while on the bench Thursday night against Colorado — and spent most of the final 20 minutes staving off the Stars’ third-period push.
Dallas had one last great chance to tie it when Marcus Kruger was called for a double-minor after high-sticking Jamie Benn off a faceoff. But the Hawks killed it off, their 15th straight successful penalty kill after their historically bad start. In fact, the entire third period played out like a 20-minute penalty kill, as the Stars — even without six of their top forwards, including Patrick Sharp (concussion) and Jason Spezza (left the game in the second period) — made a strong push to tie. Even on a late Hawks power play, they were basically killing clock.
But they held on, and continued their hot streak. All while realizing their ceiling is still a lot higher.
“Dallas is a great team, so it’s going to be tough to come in here and win,” Kane said. “[Crawford] played great again tonight. I thought tonight was a little bit better of a game, all-around for us, and we can still can improve. It’s good we’re winning these games, knowing we can be better.”