CHICAGO -- Not long after the Chicago Blackhawks concluded their 41st game -- the halfway point of the 2013-14 season -- Patrick Kane assessed their efforts.
"Good," Kane said. The winger then corrected himself: "Really good."
Indeed, the Hawks have been really good in their bid to become the first repeat Stanley Cup winners since the Red Wings in 1997-98. Behind a high-octane offense, solid defensive play and better-than-adequate goaltending, the Hawks hold a 27-7-7 record, which put them in a tie with the Ducks for most points in the NHL entering Sunday's play.
"We're happy with where we're at," Kane said. "There's always room for improvement, which I think everyone knows around here. We don't want to be satisfied, we want to keep improving and make sure that we can get a spot in the playoffs and then once we're there have a lot of confidence going in and be playing our top game."
Added coach Joel Quenneville: "We like the way we've played. Our start, we're very happy and pleased with it knowing there was a little uncertainty there. If we can finish the second half the way we started the first half, we'll be happy."
The main thing the Hawks have accomplished is serving notice to the rest of the league that any so-called Stanley Cup hangover has not lingered.
"We're showing the fact that the motivation to win and the motivation to do everything right is still there," captain Jonathan Toews said. "We want to be contenders every single year, and we're taking that very seriously this year. Guys have kind of fallen into that habit of doing the right things and finding ways to win on a regular basis."
When Toews looks around the dressing room, he sees the makings of another title team.
"We believe that we have that potential, and why not? We've had success thus far," he said. "It's going to get more and more difficult as we go along, but the challenges that have been thrown at us so far this year we've been able to overcome."
The positives, including an offense that tops the NHL with an average of 3.73 goals per game and has posted five or more scores in a league-high 17 contests and a power play that is among the most lethal with a 24.8 percent success rate, have outweighed any negatives.
Kane and Toews are putting together seasons that have them among the top candidates for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player, Patrick Sharp is surging into the ranks of the scoring leaders and Duncan Keith is playing at a higher level than when he won the Norris Trophy in 2010 as the NHL's best defenseman.
Throw in Antti Raanta's efforts in filling in for injured No. 1 goaltender Corey Crawford and Quenneville pressing all the right buttons in rolling four lines and keeping players fresh, and the formula for success has been in place.
There is, of course, room for improvement.
"We can work on our goals-against and our penalty kill," Quenneville said. "We've seen some improvement over this last stretch. That's why we like the way we're playing."
The penalty kill has been the Hawks' most troublesome spot and continues to reside in the lower regions of the NHL at 76.0 percent, 28th in the league. By yielding 2.68 scores per game, the Hawks rank 15th in goals against.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect is the Hawks have a hunger not to rest on their laurels.
"We've done some good things so far, but there are a lot of things we know we need to improve on come playoff time," Keith said.
(c)2013 Chicago Tribune
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