The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champs, and they are serving notice that they have no intention of giving up their crown. They are ridiculously hot right now, having won 11 straight and 14 of their last 16. It's dominant, impressive hockey, and it makes it tough to believe that anyone in the West can match up to them. So, how are they doing it? And what does it mean for bettors? Here are seven factors to consider when pondering those two questions:
Patrick Kane: Kane had a rough offseason full of legal woes. We can't know if he is playing with anger right now or if he is inspired by what he could have lost. Either way, he has elevated his already high level of play dramatically. The first overall pick in 2007 has a career high of 88 points - a total that was an outlier in itself. Through 48 games this year he has 69 points, which means he is on pace for 118 points on the season. He holds the league scoring lead by a stunning 13 points. The incredible performance is obviously the driving force for this team offensively. Only Dallas and Washington have scored more goals than Chicago, and only Washington has a better goal differential. With Kane playing like he is, the team's success comes as no surprise.
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Artemi Panarin: Panarin is a 24-year-old rookie who was an offensive dynamo last year in the KHL. Success in the Russian league often doesn't translate easily to the NHL, but in Panarin's case the shift has been seamless. He is second on the team in scoring with 43 points in 48 games. That gives him a very comfortable 12-point lead in the rookie scoring race. It helps, of course, that he plays with Kane, but he is as much a part of Kane;s success this year as Kane is a part of his. He was a low-cost, low-risk addition that is paying huge dividends - just the kind of break that teams need to stay at the highest level. Chicago in particular needs this kind of player to emerge - with Kane and Jonathan Toews each making $10 million a year, and several others over $5 million, they don't have the cash to go deep with experienced veteran players.
Coaching: Joel Quenneville doesn't get the press that a guy like Mike Babcock gets, but that's mostly because he doesn't seek it out. He has the second-most regular-season wins in league history, and he is a perfect fit for this team. He was just extended for three more years, so the team remains in very good hands for the foreseeable future.
Experience: I surely don't need to waste much digital ink on this one. With the same core they have now the team has won two of the last three Cups. They know what it takes to win.
Wear and tear: The flip side of the experience they have is the mileage on their tires. They have played 11 playoff series the last three years - they made the conference finals in between Cup wins. That's a whole lot of extra hockey. The veterans on the team show no inclination to rest during the season, so there is always the risk at some point that the demands could catch up to them and have a negative impact. That certainly happened to the Kings last year after they had been through a similar run. The further we get into this season, the more of a concern that becomes - especially on the top two forwards and the workhorses on defense.
Road play: If there is one cause for concern aside from the games they have played over the last three years, it's their record on the road. They are far from disastrous at 11-8-3. The difference between that and their 20-5-1 home record, though, is striking. The nine-win gap between home and road is the biggest in the league, and their road record is the worst among elite contenders. Road games are inevitable in the playoffs, and I would feel better if they weren't quite so fond of home cooking. This isn't always the case, either - last year they had identical totals of 24 wins at home and on the road.
Love the under: There is a bit of a surprise emerging for a team that scores like this one. When betting totals, the "under" has a healthy 23-16 edge on the over. In other words, the Blackhawks going under has been one of the most profitable totals plays in the league on the season. Things have been particularly good on that front lately - the under has gone 5-2-2 in the last nine games.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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