Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
Sitting with a 10-7-1 record and in the middle of the pack in a rugged division, the Chicago Blackhawks have been in need of a refresher course on the basics of winning hockey and the past week in many ways turned out to be a start of a crash course.
Despite a severe hiccup at Detroit last Friday, the Hawks went 2-1 for the week, including a shootout victory over the high-powered Tampa Bay Lightning and a 6-2 win over the division rival Dallas Stars on Sunday.
With a 7-3-1 record at the United Center through mid-November, the Hawks have proven to be solid in their home confines. As the month unfolds to its close now it’s time for the annual Circus Road Trip, which includes stops against three Canadian teams, a division rival and two southern California teams that are odds-on favorites to see come playoff time.
There will be no easy games on this road trip despite it being back-loaded with what should be more emotional contests against Anaheim and the L.A. Kings, but the first half of this trip will be more than warm-ups against Calgary and Vancouver, two teams with winning records who stand to be Dark Horses in the Western Conference.
Going further into the trip, Colorado always gives the Hawks trouble with their speed and defensive skill, even though the Avalanche have stumbled below .500 in their opening to this season. After the stop in the Rocky Mountain State will come the matches against two power houses in Cali who will challenge the Hawks for the Western Conference title.
Allowing the Hawks and their followers some encouragement is the special teams play: Chicago’s penalty kill unit has given up only two power play goals in their last 14 games and the power play unit has tallied 3 goals in their last five games.
What concerns me is consistency in goal scoring and with their 2.7 average for the season, the Hawks will have to pick it up and hopefully the Dallas game — which saw the Hawks score twice in the first period alone before dominating the game with four goals in the third — is a sign of things to come.
With Patrick Sharp still out of the lineup until the end of the road trip and another depth hit occurring with the recently-announced loss of rookie defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk, the stars will have to step up and carry the load.
Among the potential leaders, Brad Richards has finally found his groove as of late and now has 3 goals and 10 assists for the year and his production will be needed going forward. For some of you Hawks fans who still like to complain about Corey Crawford, here’s the starting goalie’s stat line for the year: 7-4-1 record with a 1.88 goals against average and a save percentage of .929. If it wasn’t for Crawford’s play, the Hawks would be below the .500 mark right now.
Looking over the complete upcoming slate, my prediction for this important early road trip is that the Hawks will take 8 out of a possible 12 points. The identity of this team will be further shaped as they step up against better competition in the Western Conference. Buckle up, its time to ride.
Circus Road Trip Schedule
Thursday — at Calgary Flames (11-6-2)
Saturday — at Edmonton Oilers (6-10-2)
Sunday — at Vancouver Canucks (12-6-0)
Wednesday, Nov. 26 — at Colorado Avalanche (6-8-5)
Friday, Nov. 28 — at Anaheim Ducks (11-4-4)
Saturday, Nov. 29 — at Los Angeles Kings (9-5-4)
Player of the Week
Patrick Kane— With 2 goals and 2 assists, including the game-winning shootout goal against Tampa Bay last Tuesday, Kaner is heating up at just the right time as the Hawks hit the road. Kane has 6 goals and 8 assists for a total of 14 points for the season.
To forward Brad Richards for playing in his 1,000th career game versus Dallas this past Sunday, in which he tallied 2 assists. Here’s a look at Richards’ career numbers, a distinguished run that has included his 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy-winning season and being a part of the ’04 Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning:
Tampa Bay Lightning: 552 games, 150 goals, 489 points
Dallas Stars: 220 GA, 70 G, 227 P
New York Rangers: 210 GA, 56 G, 151 P
Chicago Blackhawks: 18 GA, 3 G, 10 P
Congratulations to the rest of the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2014, which includes Mike Modano, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasel, Rob Blake, Pat Burns and referee Bill McCreary.
Goals per game: 2.7 (15th in NHL)
Goals against: 2.0 (2nd in NHL)
Power Play percentage: 18.1 (16th in NHL)
Penalty Kill percentage: 92.3 (1st in NHL)
Goals — Jonathan Toews (7); Assists — Toews (9); Points — Toews (16); Goals Against Average — Corey Crawford (1.88); Penalty Minutes — Andrew Shaw (19).
The Week Ahead
Thursday — at Calgary, 8 pm; Saturday — at Edmonton, 9 pm; Sunday — at Vancouver, 9 pm.
*All times Central
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