The Chicago Blackhawks will attempt to extend their NHL record points streak to start a season against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, after pushing it to 29 games without a regulation loss in a win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.
On some nights, the ‘Hawks have looked like a juggernaut, thanks in part to stellar goaltending from both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.
On other nights, they’ve needed their star players to come through in the clutch.
There was that game against the Calgary Flames, when Marian Hossa snapped a wrister to tie the game with three seconds left. There was Patrick Kane’s heroics against the Detroit Red Wings last weekend. There have been the third-period points from Jonathan Toews to keep the streak going.
Those three stars, along with Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, are the familiar names and former champions you’d expect to carry the torch on a record (save for those ties, per ESPN) streak.
But what about the players that linger out of the spotlight but have played crucial roles in the Blackhawks’ incredible run? Glad you asked.
Here are five unsung heroes of the Blackhawks’ record streak.
Niklas Hjalmarsson, Defenseman
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the big names. Hjalmarsson’s a big name too in, like, length. But he’s not frequently mentioned as the Blackhawks' best defenseman, even though he’s probably been just that during this streak.
Super Nintendo Hjalmarsson leads Chicago in shorthanded time on ice with 2:57 per game, and is giving Chicago the same occasional offense it’s expected from him in the past. He and Johnny Oduya have combined to be better than the Big Two on some nights. Must be a Swedish thing.
Hey, remember when San Jose signed Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet and forced the Blackhawks to lose Antti Niemi and then signed Niemi? And now they’re both kickin’ tail in 2013.
Marcus Kruger, Center
Kurger’s role as a penalty killer, along with Michael Frolik, had made that unit one of the best in the NHL this season. But despite being a fourth-liner, he has eight points on the year, and some of them key: Against the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 5, Kruger scored his first of the season 42 seconds after an Andrew Shaw goal to tie the game 3-3 in a wild first period.
He’s played so well, at least one Blackhawks blog wants him on the second line.
Michal Rozsival, Defenseman
It was a signing that beat the lockout deadline: Michal Rozsival, formerly of the Phoenix Coyotes, joining the Blackhawks' blueline on a one-year deal. He was a proven commodity that could jump right into the fray. He plays 16:25 per night; more importantly, he’s allowed Nick Leddy to play a more offensive role this season, to the tune of eight points and a plus-10.
Brandon Saad, Forward
A rookie playing beyond his years. Saad has 8 points in 22 games. He’s helped keep the streak alive, too: His third-period shorthanded goal was the game-winner in a tightly played game vs. the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 22. He throws around the body, and that tenacity had Blackhawk Up lobbying for him to ascend in the lineup:
This issue is one that should bug any Chicago fan. Saad belongs on the top line. He worked hard to get there, he worked hard when he was there, and he works hard shift in shift out. His numbers will go up dramatically if he continues to play with them.
He’s got the hands to play with the stars.
Andrew Shaw, Center
An absolute revelation this season for Chicago after making a strong impression last year. He has nine points in 23 games, including five goals. He’s been a presence in front of the net and along the boards, as he’s third on the team in hits.
Shaw’s helped the streak along, too: He responded to a Matt Cullen goal in the first period of the Hawks’ shootout loss on Jan. 30, tying the game and stealing their momentum. He assisted on Kane’s third-period goal vs. the Canucks in the following game. Then, on Feb. 24, he scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Mark Lazerus of the Sun-Times writes that this is all “heady stuff” for a 21-year-old player.
We might as well add a seventh name to this list: Lazerus, who hasn’t seen a regulation loss for the teams that he’s covered (Notre Dame, Blackhawks) this season.
Press box rabbit's foot, that one.
Thank to the Committed Indian guys for their input.