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Great Goaltending Leads to Division Lead

Written by Ryan Liedtky

Few teams have ever boasted of having a backup goalie with four shutouts by Christmas, and yet this year's version of the Chicago Blackhawks can do just that. Antti Niemi (8-1-1) leads the club in shutouts, goals against average, and save percentage, yet is still the second best goaltender wearing red and black.

That speaks volumes to regular starter Cristobal Huet (16-8-2), who has a 2.05 GAA, a solid mark no matter the year. Such strong play in the net can spark teams to long playoff runs, and prove most valuable to winning Lord Stanley's Cup. Chicago leads the NHL with the fewest goals given up.

The Blackhawks have shown a weakness on offense and power play, ranking 14th in scoring and power play percentage. They are second in penalty killing and first in short handed goals, but will need more efficient scoring if they want to win a series against San Jose or Colorado, and a much improved power play if they want to defeat Pittsburgh, New Jersey, or Washington in the Cup finals.

Patrick Kane leads the Hawks with 12 goals and 38 points, but five of his teammates have higher shooting percentages, including Jonathan Toews who has 11 goals and 13 assists (Kane and Toews are both 21 years of age). The Blackhawks currently rank 4th in shots taken, and are tied for 20th in shooting percentage, an astonishing combination for a team seeking a deep playoff run.

Short on experience and young in age, this team still holds the city of Chicago's best chance of a major sports championship within the next five years.

rliedtky@yahoo.com

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