Thursday, March 7, 2013
Blackhawks Or Heat: There Is No Argument
Never has the phrase "comparing apples to oranges" made more sense to me.
The Chicago Blackhawks have started out this lockout-shortened season with a 21-0-3 record, not losing a game in regulation to date. The Miami Heat, about three-quarters of the way through their lockout-free season, have won 16 games in a row. Both streaks are very impressive, but the Heat -- outside of their Harlem Shake video -- don't hold a candle to the Blackhawks right now.
In the NBA, there have been far better streaks than what the Heat have done so far. The 1971-72 Lakers, for example, won 33 games in a row and won the NBA Championship. The Blackhawks currently hold the record for longest unbeaten streak to start the season at 24 games. They have won 11 in a row, which is six shy of the record, not 17 shy like Miami.
"But losing in overtime is still losing..." Give me a break.
Chicago has lost three games in a shootout, and they have had to play bonus hockey (4 OT wins, 3 SO wins) a total of 10 times. They have never lost while they have had more than just one player or just the goalie on the ice. In their March 3 win against the Red Wings, they ran into a red hot goalie in Jimmy Howard who stopped 32 of 33 shots, yielding just one with 2:02 to go in regulation. In basketball, there is no one who can be in a position to shut down an entire offense by blocking the basket. The Heat have given up over 100 points five times during the 16-game streak, and have held just four opponents to less than 90 points. That doesn't sound all that impressive to me.
Next time LeBron James goes for a baseline three and gets flattened into the boards, let me know. Or maybe think about the last time a star player like Dwayne Wade made an impact for only about a third of the game in the form of one minute shifts at a time. The Heat are a great team, and what they're doing cannot be discredited, but it should not receive nearly as much praise as it does.
Streaks like this in hockey are so few and far between. Your offensive lines need to be clicking, your defensive pairings need to be responsible and your goalie -- or in this case, both of your goalies -- needs to be sharp night after night. Using two goalies has only worked well for just one team in recent memory, the St. Louis Blues with Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak, and with the Hawks using usually less-than-stellar Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, the streak carries even more weight.
The Blackhawks only have two players on their roster whose +/- rating is below 0. Both goalies average two goals or less allowed a game, putting them numbers 2 and 4 in the top five for goalies who have started 10+ games. And their top three scorers (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa) average just 20:17, 19:33 and 18:15 minutes of ice time a game respectively, equivalent to about one period of play, or about 33 percent of the entire game.
The Heat's top three scorers (James, Wade, Chris Bosh) average 38:30, 34:40 and 33:40 on the court respectively, good for over three quarters of play, or about 78 percent. Hockey is so much more of a team-oriented game, and getting 19 players on the same page for 24 games without any real momentum from line to line to be had, is absolutely remarkable.
In the end, one might say the streaks are incomparable. In basketball, there is no one sitting in front of the rim that you need to get by, there are no sticks or pads involved and you are never a man short for a two minute stretch. In hockey, there are no free throws, you can't walk into the lane unchallenged and you're sure as hell not going to score 90 points a night. On Sportscenter Thursday morning, the following question was asked:
Which would be a bigger blowout: the Heat hosting the Blackhawks in a game of basketball, or the Blackhawks hosting the Heat in a game of hockey?
If you can answer that question, then you know which streak is more impressive already. In the National Hockey League, you have a physical game played with skates, sticks and fighting. In the National Basketball Association, they play a game where you can take four steps without dribbling and get to shoot two free throws is someone taps your elbow. Both streaks are ongoing, but as for right now, given the Blackhawks all-around talent and depth paired with the much more physically-demanding nature of hockey over basketball, their streak is far and away more impressive.