CHICAGO (AP) — While the streak goes on and the Chicago Blackhawks pile up points, the same words are repeated over and over.
It's about improving each game, they say, and how you finish the season. Trying to win every night is another common refrain.
The uniformity of the message is a testament to the mindset of the streaking Blackhawks, but it's also a vote of confidence for the gruff conductor of the best start in NHL history. While a balanced attack and two hot goaltenders get all the credit, coach Joel Quenneville's focus on Chicago's most glaring problems from last season has played a key role in the Blackhawks' record-breaking run.
"It's nice having some familiarity back behind the bench," forward Patrick Sharp said. "He knows how to push buttons and motivate. I feel like the team that returned from last year had a head start knowing what Q demands of us, how he wants us to play. It all goes hand in hand."
Chicago began the lockout-shortened season with a 5-2 win at the Stanley Cup champion Kings on Jan. 19. Then came a 6-4 victory at Phoenix the following night, and the Blackhawks just kept collecting points like squirrels hoarding acorns for another brutal Chicago winter.
They set the NHL record for a season-opening points streak when they beat San Jose 2-1 on Friday night to make it 17 in a row. Two more victories later, and the Blackhawks are at 19 heading into Thursday night's game at rival St. Louis.
"We were hoping to get off to a good start," Quenneville said. "We looked at our schedule. We had a brutal schedule, when we play 10 out of 12 on the road. So we're thinking hopefully we can put ourselves in a position when we come home we'd be in a decent spot. But we didn't see this happening, for sure."
It seems as if everyone on the roster has stepped up at one point or another during the 16-0-3 opening.
Patrick Kane is among the league leaders with 10 goals and 14 assists. Goalie Corey Crawford has a terrific 1.50 goals-against average, and backup Ray Emery has won each of his eight starts. Defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook are near the top of the NHL in blocked shots.
"If you told us this at the start of the season, it would blow our socks off," Sharp said. "I don't think anyone anticipated this. But as the season's gone on, it's just come to the rink and prepare to play."