The Chicago Blackhawks are ready to take on the Western Conference.
With practices officially starting up this coming weekend, players and the organization are energized to finally take the ice after a lengthy NHL lockout.
The season will supposedly consist of 48 games that will start on January 19, but no official schedule has been released as of yet. Regardless, it will be a season consisting of many back-to-back games all within the Western Conference.
This season will have many ups and downs with the Blackhawks trying to play through the adversity and make it back to the playoffs. Injuries are expected, as well as the occasional losing streak when players remain sidelined.
But who knows what will happen in this shortened NHL season?
These are five bold predictions for the Chicago Blackhawks:
Corey Crawford will shake off his sophomore slump.
However you choose to look at it, Corey Crawford had a shaky time in net last season.
Barely able to hold onto his No. 1 spot in the Blackhawks' net, Crawford had showed signs of brilliance along with some goose eggs that helped Ray Emery take the reigns.
But Crawford won 30 games last season and had his fair share of moments that won games for the Blackhawks. He had a 2.77 GAA with .903 save percentage, that down from 2.30 with .917 save percentage his rookie year.
Call it a sophomore slump, Crawford failed to live up to expectations from his rookie season.
But there is hope, the goaltender can bounce back and help the Blackhawks back to the playoffs in this 48-game schedule.
The extra time off could have helped him reassess his game and pick up a technique or two that will help from the "cheap" goals slipping behind him.
Never doubt the chance, Crawford will bounce back from his sophomore slump.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will help the Blackhawks take the top spot in the Western Conference.
With a 48-game season in the works, more games will have to be played in a smaller amount of time.
That is an advantage for younger, faster and tougher NHL teams.
The Blackhawks have a young core that can withstand a season of close games—there are few other teams in the NHL that can say that same.
It's bound to be a very chaotic season once games get underway and players start to feel the fatigue of a closer-schedule season.
The Blackhawks will claim the No. 1 stop, just as they did at the halfway point of last season—before being knocked down to the No. 6 spot thanks to a nine-game losing streak.
Patrick Kane will flourish thanks to a shortened season.
48 games isn't enough to reach the 100-point plateau for a player, but a scoring title is still up for grabs.
Patrick Kane is looking to break out of his point-per-game slump, pushing him to become a more versatile player for the Blackhawks.
Since winning the Stanley Cup, Kane's point production has been slowly declining. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that he's being put into more of a defensive role at center.
But this will be Kane's year. He will flourish at right wing with a little stint at center. Point production will be up as Kane weaves his way around tired defenseman, thanks in part to a heavy 48-game schedule.
It also helps that Kane has spent the better part of last year with EHC Biel in Switzerland., getting into game shape well before many players even had a chance to hit the ice; big advantage, Kane.
Daniel Carcillo will help pick up the Blackhawks when they get down.
Remember Daniel Carcillo?
However you chose to look at Carcillo is irrelevant; he's an agitator, a player that wants to be hated. At the same time, Carcillo is a player that can provide a ton of energy for a team that is lacking.
After Carcillo went down last season, the Blackhawks went on to lose nine-straight games. An important factor in that nine-game losing streak was the Blackhawks inability to pick up their game, energy levels were lacking.
Carcillo won't put up many points, he may even be lacking defensively, but he can pick up his team. He is the ultimate motivator as well as the go-to guy to throw an opponent off their game.
Jonathan Toews may be holding the Stanley Cup once again come June.
This will prove to be a very bruising season for many NHL teams.
Playing back-to-back games more than twice a week will cause many injuries that will absolutely decimate playoffs chances for some teams.
The team that hangs on the best, doesn't get fatigued late into the season and has a few top-line players will win the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks are very capable of being that NHL team. A team that will have its fair share of injuries but that will also endure heading into the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins also have a team that resembles the Blackhawks: a young core with a ton of offensive talent.
It may come down to the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
But that's looking too far ahead, let's just focus on opening night in the NHL.
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