Joel Quenneville is left wondering who might play hero Friday on a night when his Chicago Blackhawks could make National Hockey League history.
Does a goaltender have a spectacular performance? Will second-year forward Andrew Shaw come up big in the shootout? Or does a front-line player like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa come through with a key play or winning goal?
“I like the consistency of our team. We’re getting contributions from everyone,” the man known as Coach Q said on the phone from Chicago, where his team will attempt to set the record for the longest undefeated streak to start a season in Game 17.
“We think any given night somebody could step up and be the producers of the night," said Quenneville of his 13-0-3 team. "I think we have some depth on this team and organizationally as well.”
A week ago, Ray Emery stopped 27 shots in a 4-1 win over the Sharks. Two nights later, veteran forward Patrick Sharp fired the winning goal and then Shaw, a second-year centre, delivered in the shootout on Tuesday to cap Chicago’s third consecutive win, 4-3 over Vancouver, to make it 16 straight games with at least a point.
Buffalo began the 2005-06 season with a record of 11-0-1 and Anaheim followed 12 months later with a 12-0-4 start, while the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers opened the season 12-0-3 when ties counted.
San Jose provides the competition Friday, returning to the United Center following Tuesday’s 2-1 win at St. Louis on the heels of a seven-game losing streak.
“We expect a dangerous opponent [in the Sharks]. They know us pretty well and we know what they’re capable of,” said Quenneville, who’s in his fifth year behind the Blackhawks bench. “We respect them for their power play and the way they can score goals quickly. It’ll be a good test for us.”
Quenneville also shared his thoughts with CBCSports.ca on Kane’s strong play this season, his players’ commitment to off-season training and their dominance in road games this season.
1. Right-winger Patrick Kane seems to be on a mission this season. Besides leading your team with nine goals and 22 points in 16 games, what has he demonstrated to you, the other coaches and his teammates?
Quenneville: I think his focus, concentration and commitment has been in the right place. I think playing in Europe [during the lockout] helped him coming into the season. Every day he wants to be the best, wants the puck. It seems he’s skating as well as he ever has, shooting the puck as well as he ever has.
I think he’s gotten better defensively [plus-9 this season] and grown up each year he’s been here. His shot is very dangerous and there’s always a play or two, game in and game out, whether it’s a pass, deke or just one of his moves where you say, wow, did you see that? He has the puck a lot, which has been very good for us.
2. Chicago had nine players who played overseas during the recent NHL lockout, which was more than many of the other 29 clubs. What were your thoughts on your players going to Europe and what effect has it had on the team’s early-season success?
The more the merrier is the way I looked at it. At the same time, the guys that weren’t playing, I think those guys came into [training] camp in incredible shape. They were ready to go and their mental focus and preparation, their physical conditioning was perfect.
We took off [at the start of the season] and it was a credit to these guys how they either maintained themselves or prepared themselves [in the off-season]. Every day in training camp you could see the guys couldn’t wait to play.
3. Your penalty kill entered play Friday ranked third in the league with a 87.9 per cent success rate, far above last season’s 78.1 per cent mark, thanks in large part to the play of fourth-line forwards Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik. How have they made such an impact to the unit?
They’re maybe under-the-radar guys, not great producers offensively, but they can make plays and seem to have the puck a lot. They have some quickness, good vision, they anticipate well.
The penalty killing has given us some energy as far as being disruptive with some good pressure [when teams enter] our zone. You have to commend [Kruger and Frolik] on their work ethic. They’re almost relentless around the puck. The two of them make a nice tandem.
4. Defenceman Johnny Oduya arrived in Chicago in a deadline-day trade last February and was a steady presence. He has carried that play into this season, boasting the top plus-minus on your blue-line this season at plus-9. How else does he contribute to your team’s success?
He plays important minutes for us, can play against the top guys, kills penalties for you and is always in the right position. He defends well, moves the puck extremely well and has good patience and vision with the puck. Johnny playing with Niklas Hjalmarsson has been a good pair for us. They’re both Swedes and work well together.
Johnny has a great approach to the game and is having a lot of fun in Chicago. It’s been a great situation for us how well he’s fit in and taken some responsibility. It’s almost like the more important the situation Johnny likes a challenge. You gotta commend him on his consistency.
5. Nine of the Blackhawks’ first 10 games this season were played on the road and you won all of them. This came after a 2011-12 season in which your club had a decent 18-18-5 mark away from the United Center. To what do you attribute this year’s spectacular 8-0-2 road record?
I looked at our [road] schedule [before the season] and thought it would be a tough one. We had 10 of our first 12 games [on the road] in some tough buildings and you didn’t know how it would go. But I didn’t mind the camaraderie that the guys formed early in the season.
They got some quality time together and the bonding, I thought, was important. We’ve got a lot of enthusiasm getting off to a good start. It seems to be building every day. The guys are having a lot of fun and everybody feels good about their contribution to the team, which is important.