First Line – Blackhawks Down?

Are the Blackhawks on the way down after ending the streak this past week? If they are, the Ducks seem to be taking the reigns as best team in the Western Conference pretty easily.

Hello, this is a feature that should run on a weekly basis. While I can’t watch every hockey game, through what I can watch, watching highlights, and examining stats, I’ll try and piece together the best five teams in the league each week with one team to look-out for as well.

1. Chicago Blackhawks (21-2-3)

Yes, the Blackhawks won’t be touching the famous streak that the Philadelphia Flyers set during the ’79-’80 season, at least not yet after dropping two straight this past weekend. But could those losses be cause for concern? In Friday’s 6-1 shelling at the hands of the lowly Avalanche, they didn’t look like the team that streaked, and same for the beginning of a 6-5 loss to the Oilers last night. Though this also came after 7 games in 11 days, which makes me wonder if they were simply getting tired out from all the hockey they were playing.

2. Anaheim Ducks (18-3-3)

At 10-1-1, goaltender Viktor Fasth is holding down the goaltending front for the Ducks quite well while Jonas Hiller has been away with injury. While the critics are divided on the contract extension for Ryan Getzlaf, and what it means for the other expiring contracts on the team – especially Corry Perry – they should be more worried about the next ten days for the team. In those ten days they play five games, four against current playoff teams (Wild, Blackhawks, San Jose, and the Blues) and one against a team only two points back (Stars). How they, and Fasth, fairs against these opponents will let us know if this team’s early success is for real.

3. Boston Bruins (16-3-3)

The Bruins have looked red hot as of late, even with some troubles scoring during their busy past two weeks. Faced with an easy load at the season’s onset, the schedule has been picking up – with two straight four game weeks followed by this week’s five game set. Three of those games will be huge, especially since two of them match them up against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, but more on them in a bit. If the Bruins can pick up their scoring, only 67 goals scored so far is low compared to the other high-powered Eastern teams, and get more of the same from Tukka Rask, the week should end pretty positively.

4.  Montreal Canadiens (17-5-4)

Sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference has to have the Habs feeling pretty good with only half of the schedule remaining. Their recent five game road-trip ended with only one loss, and two impressive wins over the Bruins and Hurricanes. The team was doing well without him, but how about the play lately of P.K. Subban? The defenseman has played in 20 of the teams games, and his 18 points have made a huge impact. With a light week ahead of them, only two games, don’t expect much of a drop in the rankings from the Habs.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-0)

Everyone today is raving over the insane stats that Sidney Crosby is putting up this season already. And imagine had he been healthy through the past two seasons, and how his overall stats would look. Wow. And while Crosby, and friend Chris Kunitz, have been scoring a bunch, there are two things for Pittsburgh fans to be concerned of. The first is that Evgeni Malkin is suspected to be out for 1-2 weeks with a separated shoulder – that means missing two Boston games, a Leafs game, and a Rangers game. And the other is that even while winning 5 straight games, the Penguins have allowed 18 goals. If they keep getting stellar play from Crosby and company, this won’t be a problem, but should their scoring dip at all they’ll have something to worry about for sure.

Watch out for: St. Louis Blues (13-10-2)

A light week, only three games, but three very important ones that could help tell us if the Blues of last year – Coach Ken Hitcock’s first – wasn’t just a fluke. They take on the Sharks, Coyotes and Ducks in those three games, while currently sitting in the last playoff spot in the East. While they may not be able to catch the Blackhawks or Ducks right away in the standings, three wins this week would certainly put them in the conversation for best team in the Western Conference.