Chicago Blackhawks Continue Remarkable NHL Winning Streak

It's not quite a winning streak, but what the Chicago Blackhawks have done in one half of a lockout-shortened NHL season has been remarkable. Twenty one wins and just three shoot out losses in 24 games. And, as sportswriter Stefan Fatsis tells Audie Cornish, the most amazing thing about Chicago's torrid start? It's got people paying attention to hockey again after yet another lockout almost killed then entire year.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. The Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League have done something remarkable. They've gone half of the current season, 24 games, without losing in regulation time. Here to talk about that feat and other hockey news is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hey there, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So the Blackhawks are going for 25 tonight against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, but I want to be clear because they're not undefeated, technically, right? I mean, this is not a winning streak.

FATSIS: Correct. The Blackhawks have actually lost three games, but in the NHL, it's how you lose that matters. The league abolished ties in 2005, so if a game is tied after regulation, there's a five-minute overtime. And then if it's still tied, there's a shootout. The winner, by any means, gets three points in the standings, but an overtime or shootout loser still gets a point, which is known as a charity point or a loser point or a pity point.

Chicago's three charity points all have come from shootouts, which means that the Blackhawks haven't lost when a bunch of guys are skating around trying to score. And that is amazing.

CORNISH: So how have they pulled this off?

FATSIS: Well, they've done it thanks to the revival of their young star Patrick Kane, who's got 27 points in the 24 games. They've also given up the fewest goals in the league and have great at killing penalties and they've eschewed the NHL's big hitting ethos. They rank near the bottom of the league in hits and penalties per game. Instead, Chicago's about skating and stick handling and as a result, they can be delightful to watch and very difficult to defend.

CORNISH: So what's the meant to the NHL?

FATSIS: A lot of attention. You know, how quickly we've forgotten that this is a 48-game regular season instead of the usual 82 because of a lockout that wiped out the first three months of the year. But fans have come back. People are watching on TV. Chicago's 2 to 1 shootout win over Detroit last Sunday drew a record audience for a regular season game on NBC. There's also been some social media buzz, like a tweet the other day from NBA star Lebron James.

He said, hey Chicago Blackhawks, you guys are awesome.

CORNISH: Well, unfortunately I want to talk about a less feel-good NHL story because on Tuesday, a member of the New York Rangers was hit in the eye by a flying puck and this, I gather, has revived a debate about safety in the league.

FATSIS: Yeah. The Rangers' defenseman Marc Staal, he was stuck by a ricochet slapshot that was probably traveling at, you know, 75 or 80 or 90 miles per hour. The issue here is that Staal wasn't wearing a protective visor attached to his helmet. The NHL players union has repeatedly rejected attempts by the league to make visors mandatory on the grounds that players should be able to choose what equipment they want to wear.

CORNISH: All right. Help me out here. I mean, why wouldn't they want to wear something to protect their eyes?

FATSIS: Comfort, mostly. You have to wipe away sweat occasionally, a belief that wearing a visor might reduce your peripheral vision or you acuity on the ice, but these were the same kinds of arguments that were made before the NHL made helmets mandatory for incoming players back in 1979. What's odd here, though, is that most everyone who's in the NHL now grew up wearing full face cages in youth or college hockey and at least a visor in the minor leagues.

More than 70 percent of NHL players do wear visors. That's up from just a quarter of the league a decade ago, but at a time when concussions and fighting are high on the topic list of what's wrong with the NHL, making visors mandatory seems pretty obvious to me.

CORNISH: Well, Stefan, thanks for the update.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can more of him on Slate.com sports podcast "Hang Up And Listen."

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