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January 3, 2014 | 10:04am ET
Hawks in great position in 2014
By Tab Bamford, TheFourthPeriod.com

CHICAGO, IL -- As it turns out, 2013 was a pretty good calendar year for the Chicago Blackhawks.

A 36-7-5 regular season followed by a second Stanley Cup championship in four seasons was great for the 2012-13 season. And this time, they didn't need to break up the roster that won the rings immediately after the parade.

Fast forward through six months, and conference realignment, and in many ways the story remains the same in Chicago.

In 42 regular season games before the calendars flipped to January, the Blackhawks were 28-7-7 and were the highest scoring team in the NHL.

The superstars for the Hawks have remained on top of the game.

Patrick Kane enters 2014 second in the League in points and third in goals; he registered a point in all but one game in December after he was named the NHL's Number One Star for November. Patrick Sharp had a dominant December as well, and has as many goals -- 22 -- as Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry. Duncan Keith is third in the league in assists with 36, and Jonathan Toews is tied for 12th in the NHL with 41 points. Meanwhile, Marian Hossa has only 34 points in 38 games.

However, while expectations are that the incredible core of the Blackhawks will put up strong numbers, the 2013-14 Hawks are receiving contributions from all over the roster. And the supporting cast is what makes them special again this season.

The acquisition of Kris Versteeg in mid-November has added another dimension to the already-potent Chicago offense. Since coming back to the Hawks, Versteeg has 16 points in 24 games and has spent most of the last six weeks skating on the second line with Kane.

A lot has been said about 21-year-old Brandon Saad in the wake of Wednesday's announcement of the USA roster for the Winter Olympics. In his first full NHL season, he has 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) through 43 games. What might be more impressive -- and was certainly noticed by those discussing the USA roster -- is his all-around game. Saad 37 takeaways (11th in the NHL) and he's contributing on both special teams for Chicago.

Marcus Kruger, who was a penalty kill specialist last year, has improved in almost every area this season. He leads Chicago forwards with 43 blocked shots, and is winning 58 percent of his faceoffs; he won only 46 percent of his draws last season. While the Chicago penalty kill has been among the League's worst, his play has been solid throughout the season. Kruger should be considered for Sweden's roster at the Winter Olympics.

On the blue line, Niklas Hjalmarsson has provided an offensive threat that hasn't been seen from him before. He's already tied a career-high with 17 points while continuing to lead the Hawks in blocked shots. He, too, should be on Sweden's roster in Sochi.

In net, Chicago relied heavily on Corey Crawford early in the year when Nikolai Khabibulin was disappointing and then hurt. When Crawford went down in early December, Antti Raanta was called on to jump into the starting role and responded very well. Raanta has a 10-1-3 record in relief of Crawford, who is 17-6-4 after suffering an overtime loss to the Islanders in his return from injury on Thursday night.

The Central Division has become top-heavy; the Blackhawks and Blues have started to separate from the rest of the pack. These Blackhawks are strong across the board. They've missed a few pieces -- Crawford and Bickell, specifically -- for extended periods of time without losing a step because of strong organizational depth.

Staying healthy will be key for the Blackhawks in the season's second half, especially with the number of players on the Chicago roster heading to the Olympics.

Tab Bamford is the Chicago Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period.


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