Chicago Blackhawks: 5 Toughest Matchups for the Hawks This Season

Taylor GiffinCorrespondent IISeptember 20, 2012

Chicago Blackhawks: 5 Toughest Matchups for the Hawks This Season

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    This upcoming season, there are five key matchups that will present the Chicago Blackhawks with the most problems.

    These teams were the same ones that prevented the 'Hawks from improving the 45-26-11 record they finished with last year.

    Throughout the 2012/13 season, it will be imperative for the 'Hawks to pick up points against these specific teams. If they are able to do that, then home-ice advantage could be up for grabs—something the 'Hawks desperately need if they want a return to NHL supremacy.

    Without any further wait, here are the five toughest matchups the Chicago Blackhawks will have to endure next season (if there is one, that is).

5. Dustin Brown and the Los Angeles Kings

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    The reigning Stanley Cup champions will prove to be a tough adversary for every team they face. Even though the Chicago Blackhawks are a team that can certainly provide strong opposition to the Kings, they do not hold the advantage as of right now.

    With a set of forwards resembling an All-Star team, a defensive corps led by young Drew Doughty and the net being guarded by Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, the Kings are the total team.

    Last season, the Kings were able to pick up three wins against the 'Hawks in a span of just four games. In those wins, Quick was able to post two shutouts.

    Kings captain Dustin Brown also came through big in one of the games against the 'Hawks. In a four-nothing blanking, Brown was able to tally a hat trick and an assist—contributing on every goal.

    The 'Hawks first face the Cup champs this upcoming season on Wednesday, November 21st, 2012. The team will need to play a complete game on both sides of centre if they want to add a tally in the win column.

4. Pennsylvanian Teams Are No Picnic

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    When the two teams that inhabit the state of Pennsylvania are the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers you know every game is going to be demanding.

    The Chicago Blackhawks found that out firsthand last season.

    The 'Hawks lost 3-2 to the Penguins and then later in the year 5-4 to the Flyers—both on the road. Superstars Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux were able to rack up the points against the 'Hawks. Malkin was able to record three points while Giroux had two points in those games, respectively.

    Lucky enough, this upcoming season the team will only have to travel to Philadelphia on Sunday, March 10th, 2012. Nonetheless, one less travel date to Pennsylvania does not make the matchup against the Penguins at home any easier. That game goes Monday, November 5th, 2012 at the United Center.

    The 'Hawks will need to step up their team defense if they plan on keeping the high octane offences of the Penguins and Flyers under control.

3. Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes

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    There are two reasons why the Phoenix Coyotes will be one of the toughest matchups for the Chicago Blackhawks next season.

    One—when they first face the Coyotes, the team is going to look for retribution. The Coyotes were the ones who knocked the 'Hawks out of the first round of the playoffs last year. It will be a must-win situation.

    Second, the Coyotes owned them during the regular season, even if you exclude the playoffs. They were able to win three out of the four regular season games against the 'Hawks.

    Goaltender Mike Smith was a key catalyst in all those wins. He put together a perfect three-for-three record against the 'Hawks, including a shutout, a one goal win and a shootout win.

    The first game against the two teams is scheduled for Tuesday, October 30th, 2012.

    The key for the Blackhawks to win is to put the puck past Smith. He played well last season—and throughout the playoffs—but the 'Hawks can't afford to have that in the back of their minds. Instead, their focus needs to be on getting pucks and bodies to the net to create havoc.

2. Taking the Long Road Through Oil Country

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    Last season, the Chicago Blackhawks experienced two different outcomes during their two road excursions. During the first swing—the annual circus trip—the team was able to return home with a record of four wins and two loses. The second swing, however, was a completely different story.

    Already losing two games before the nine-game road trip in early February, the 'Hawks went on to lose their first seven on the road. Giving them their worst losing streak of the season—nine games.

    The 2012/13 year does not have the team dealing with a nine-game road vacation but they do have to settle with three separate six-game road swings.

    What will be important on these trips is for the 'Hawks to gain back some confidence against the young Edmonton Oilers. The 'Hawks were embarrassed on two occasions against them at Rexall Place. In those two games the team gave up a total of 17 goals.

    The 'Hawks need at least a .500 record when on these extended road trips. If things go down hill the team will need to reflect on last season for inspiration to turn the ship around—no one wants another nine-game losing streak.

    Their first test on the road comes in November when they take off for six games.

1. Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators

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    Pekka Rinne may be the best goalie in the NHL.

    Last season, he was able to pick up 43 wins—the most of any netminder. He also had a 2.39 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. Some unbelievable stats.

    The Nashville Predators are not made up of just Rinne, however. The team plays a strong defensive game making it tough on opponents. The Chicago Blackhawks were one of their many victims.

    The 'Hawks were only able to grab four of 12 possible points in last season's series. Considering the 'Hawks were able to post a 16-6-2 record in division play, the losses to the Predators were prominent.

    One more win against them would have moved them into second in the division and fourth in the conference—securing home ice.

    Next season, the 'Hawks are going to need to make sure they can win more games against the Predators, which, more than likely, means finding a way to beat Rinne.

    The first matchup between the 'Hawks and Predators is on Friday, November 2nd, 2012.