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Blackhawks Mon Dec 08 2014

Blackhawks Back on Top in the Central

Chicago Blackhawks After a bit of a slow start from the Hawks the first few months of the season, Joel Quenneville's crew finds itself back atop the Central standings after a 3-1 take down of the Predators in Nashville this past Saturday evening. The Hawks are red hot these days, no thanks to blistering play from Patrick Kane, Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg on the second line; goalies Antti Raanta and Scott Darling stepping it up between the pipes for an ailing Corey Crawford; and puck possession as a team, which currently is ranked first in the entire league in CORSI-for percentage at 55.1 percent.

The Hawks have won their last six games and nine of their last 10, which included going 5-1-0 on the annual Circus Trip. The result has produced a one-point difference in the standings, leapfrogging said Predators and positioning themselves a mere four points away for most in the West. And this is all without consistent scoring from Marian Hossa and a sidelined Patrick Sharp.

The Bridgestone Arena was mostly filled with a sea of red jerseys Saturday, which wasn't much of a surprise considering the team started a promotion to "Get the Red Out" in an effort to eliminate road trips from Hawks faithful. Not much could be done to prevent that just as goalie Pekka Rinne couldn't do much to stop Brandon Saad and the rest of his teammates.

In fact, Saad has been so good as of late, he's climbed the ranks in points per 60 minutes played at 3.03, which places him sixteenth overall in the league. Hossa, who hasn't found the back on the net all that often prior to this past Saturday, leads the team in shots taken per 60 minutes with an average of 11.25, which is ninth in the league for players with more than 200 minutes of ice time played.

Another stat that has helped the Hawks on their recent hot streak is the power play. The Hawks have notoriously been awful in the man advantage, and while there's still room for improvement, they sit at seventeenth in the league with an 18.4 percent average, which is a bit better than normal. The Penguins lead the league with a 29.4 percent average with fewer opportunities than the Hawks (109 for Chicago to Pittsburgh's 85).

It's also the penalty kill that has helped the Hawks cruise right along in the standings. They lead the league in penalty kills at 91.1 percent. The team isn't committing too many penalties as they sit seventh in the league with 79 total penalties. Of those 79 times on the kill, they've relinquished a mere seven goals.

The Hawks stay east and make a swing along the coast with visits to New Jersey, Boston and Long Island, before heading back home. The Islanders will be a fun test for the Hawks, especially in trying to contain John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, but after that trip, the home schedule appears a little more favorable for this team.

With Sharp looking to get back in play Tuesday in New Jersey, it'll be interesting to see how Quenneville moves his lines around. It's more than likely on the top line, which means Saad moves down to the third line with Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith. It's a good problem to have for a team that, at least for now, is back on top in its own division.

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