Chicago Blackhawks Face Tough Task Ahead on the Road
The Chicago Blackhawks are off to their best start in franchise history, but their work is far from over.
After defeating the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in overtime on Sunday night, the Blackhawks take their 6-0-0 record on the road for six consecutive games. Their next home game will be in two weeks when they take on the Anaheim Ducks on February 12.
While a 6-0-0 record is incredibly nice heading into this road trip, the Blackhawks must be careful not to rely on that lead too heavily.
The next six games will make or break the Blackhawks' incredible start to this shortened season. If they fail to have a good road trip, they may be knocked all the way down to the fifth or sixth seed.
Not to be too pessimistic, but the 'Hawks need to tighten up their defensive play, because a stiff test is in store for them.
They visit Minnesota on Wednesday and follow that up with a visit to their hated rivals, the Vancouver Canucks, on Friday. Those are two tough teams that will pounce on defensive mishaps and slow play, and two wins in those arenas will require a much better puck-possession game.
The Blackhawks have struggled in their last two games, which came against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings. While they came away with the win both times, they were also outworked and outshot in what looked like lackluster efforts.
Maybe it was just fatigue—playing six games in nine days will do that to any team in the NHL. Excuses aside, head coach Joel Quenneville will be looking to fix some of those mishaps before the puck is dropped on Wednesday.
Defensive zone play was stifled at times, and players failed to clear their zone, leading to numerous Detroit chances.
But not all was bad in the Blackhawks' past two games.
While being outshot, Corey Crawford stood up to the test and showed that he can be a big-time player for this team. Chicago's defensive depth stood up, blocking its fair share of shots whenever a turnover resulted in a defensive zone opportunity.
Let's not forget the stellar penalty killing, led by Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik. The Blackhawks have killed off all but one of the 23 power-play chances against them, which is a stark contrast from last season.
Frolik credited Crawford and his team for killing off every penalty in the second period against the Red Wings (via Chris Kuc of The Chicago Tribune):
"In the second period, almost the whole period we played on the PK," Frolik said. "It was big, especially the five-on-three. That was great play by guys and Crawford making big saves."
The Blackhawks faced adversity and came through victoriously—reminiscent of the 2010 Blackhawks team that won Lord Stanley's Cup.
Not to look too far ahead, but this team is showing real signs of a championship run.
Right now, it's best to focus on the hard task in the next six games away from the United Center.
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