Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
For the men in red, their annual Circus Road Trip is off to a hot start.
The third period of last Sunday’s loss to the Vancouver Canucks offered a speed bump, but despite that eventual loss the Chicago Blackhawks hold a 2-1 record so far on this trip and six wins in their last ten games overall proves that this time is as close as its been this season to being the team that most experts picked to go far in the playoffs.
There are a couple of reasons for this turnaround.
First, the power play, ranked 11th in the NHL has been on point, scoring on four of 13 chances including two goals with the man advantage in Chicago’s 7-1 victory over Edmonton last Saturday.
Secondly, the unsung heroes of the Hawks are doing things that should make more people sing their praises soon. Kris Versteeg — back healthy and contributing on a second line that includes Brad Richards and Patrick Kane — has two goals and two assists in his return, including the lone power play goal in the 4-1 loss to Vancouver.
Marcus Kruger, who anchors the fourth line, has had a nice stretch not just helping shut down the opponents’ top scoring lines, but in adding points to his stat sheet with one goal and one assist. Finally, Ben Smith, a line mate of Kruger’s, has numbers that may not show his true worth on the stat sheet but they have contributed in other ways, including his tallying three blocked shots against Calgary, part of six he’s blocked on the trip so far.
These unnoticed players should be recognized to the fullest, especially while the team deals with the absence of Andrew Shaw to an upper body injury, he should return to the lineup tonight at Colorado.
With a 5-5 record on the road on the season, the Hawks have an excellent chance to finish this trip on a high note, but it won’t be easy. The Colorado Avalanche currently post a 7-9-5 record, but their speed and skill always gives the Hawks trouble, especially in Denver.
The Anaheim Ducks (13-5-4) and the Los Angeles Kings (11-6-5) are looked at as the Hawks’ main competitors to win the Western Conference and those teams sit in back to back games at the end of this week, they will be Chicago’s toughest challenges to date in regards to picking up points in the standings.
My prediction going into the trip was the Hawks would pick up eight of a possible 12 points — so far, the Hawks have picked up four. If they can muscle at least four standing points in the last three games of this road trip, this trip would have to be considered a success and a nice step forward from where the team was in the beginning of November.
Player of the Week
Kris Versteeg — With two goals and two assists, including power play goals against Edmonton and Vancouver, Versteeg was one of the players that I called out to step up when Patrick Sharp went out of the lineup due to a lower body injury. So far, so good for him, but lets see if this type of performance continues through the trip’s toughest games.
To rookie defenseman Adam Clendening for scoring his first career goal in the NHL against Calgary in his first shift and on his first shot in the Hawks’ 4-3 victory.
Clendening joins elite recent company in scoring his first career goal in a Hawks uniform. Here’s the list since 2007:
Andrew Shaw — 1/5/2012 (at Philadelphia)
Jake Dowell — 11/22/2007 (at Calgary)
Jonathan Toews — 10/10/2007 (vs. San Jose)
Bryan Bickell — 4/6/2007 (vs. Detroit)
To Brent Seabrook for playing in his 700th career game in the NHL, also during the Calgary win. Seabrook has played all his games in a Hawks uniform and in this one he netted home his fifth goal of the season.
Goals per game: 2.9 (8th in NHL)
Goals against: 2.1 (3rd in NHL)
Power Play percentage: 20.0 (11th in NHL)
Penalty Kill percentage: 90.3 (1st in NHL)
Goals — Jonathan Toews (9); Assists — Marian Hossa (12); Points — Toews (18); Goals Against Average — Corey Crawford (1.98); Penalty Minutes — Andrew Shaw (19).
The Week Ahead
Wednesday — at Colorado, 8 pm; Friday — at Anaheim, 3 pm; Saturday — at L.A. Kings, 9:30 pm.
*All times Central
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio and Sidney Brown on Twitter @sidkid80