x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Chicago Blackhawks still soaring in title defence

Defending Stanley Cup champions showing no signs of hangover

Jonathan Toews, right, leads the Chicago Blackhawks with 16 goals and 30 points. Derek Leung / AFP
Jonathan Toews, right, leads the Chicago Blackhawks with 16 goals and 30 points. Derek Leung / AFP

Spending the summer hoisting the Stanley Cup in front of friends and family is historically a draining experience.

It must be. Cup-winning teams have had a dismal time in recent years defending their titles. The last repeat winners in the NHL were the 1998 Detroit Red Wings, a fact that does not bode well for the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Not that they care. The Hawks have been too busy positioning themselves for back-to-back celebrations. One-third of the way through the season, the champs lead the NHL in points. Again.

Thus far, the so-called Stanley Cup “hangover” has bypassed Chicago.

“It seems like we just picked up where we left off,” veteran forward Patrick Sharp told the Calgary Sun last week. “We looked at it as a challenge – everyone’s out to get the Hawks.”

Those would-be spoilers haven’t had much luck. Chicago’s win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday ran the Hawks’ winning streak to six games.

This year looks a lot like last year, in more ways than one. The Hawks are still out-shooting and out-scoring their opponents.

Their 102 goals lead the NHL. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins scored more goals than Chicago did last season.

The team’s top stars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, remain their top two scorers again this fall. Kane’s 16 goals and 30 points lead the team, followed by Toews’ 12 goals and 25 points.

They also are the toughest team to put away. The Blackhawks have trailed entering the third period in eight games and rallied to win five of them, a .625 rate of success. No other team is above .333 in that category.

“The biggest thing in this room is confidence in ourselves and confidence in our ability to come back in games when we are down,” Kane told the league website. “That’s been pretty evident the past couple of years.”

In fact, Chicago led the league in the category a year ago, winning four games and gaining an overtime point in another when trailing after two periods in 10 games.

Of course, Chicago also pulled off the never-say-die feat on the sport’s biggest stage. They clinched the Stanley Cup in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins, overcoming a one-goal deficit by scoring twice in the last 76 seconds.

The high-scoring Hawks do not need a Vezina Trophy winner in goal, but net-minder Corey Crawford has been a workhorse.

Only three goalies have started more games, and his 2.36 goals-against average and .913 save percentage may be enough to support another play-off run – no matter how much Cup-lifting they did last summer.

sports@thenational.ae