The Chicago Blackhawks have played four of their first six games away from the United Center. Things don't get any better over the next two weeks, though a 6-0 start does offer a lot in the way of optimism.
The 'Hawks have six straight road games to plow through before returning to home cooking for most of the rest of February. A lengthy seven-game home stand awaits Chicago as it prepares to begin the road set up in Minnesota. Can this club return to the Windy City in control of the Western Conference?
To remain at or near the top, the Blackhawks have to continue to play well in areas that have been a strength in the early stages of the 2013 season. Here's where Chicago needs to continue to excel.
1. The Penalty Kill
It's true that the ability of the 'Hawks power play to take advantage has been a pleasant change from a year ago; the team has been at its best when down a man.
Chicago is currently second in the NHL in PK efficiency, having allowed a single goal in 23 opponent chances. That certainly was evident in the 'Hawks 2-1 win over Detroit when they killed six Red Wing power plays to keep the game close.
2. Balance on D
In particular, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been up to the challenge. They have played well and helped both the top and bottom pairings.
The top pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith don't have to hit the 30-minute mark every night. At the same time, Nick Leddy and Sheldon Brookbank/Michal Rozsival aren't forced to log bigger minutes.
3. Corey Crawford's stinginess
Perhaps Ray Emery gets Saturday's start in Calgary. Other than that, we should see Crawford between the pipes
Crow was the league's second star for the previous week. He hasn't given up more than two goals in any game this season. He's getting some better support in front of him, but Crawford's getting the job done in big moments. A shutout would be nice somewhere on the trip. If Chicago keeps winning, however, I could care less.
4. Scoring throughout the lineup
Eight different Blackhawks forwards have a goal this season, and ten players up front have points. Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik each have scored goals and have created some nice scoring chances, as has Viktor Stalberg, who set up Nick Leddy for the overtime game-winner Sunday night.
Dave Bolland has played well alongside Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. The top unit has been paced by Marian Hossa's hot start. Rolling a full compliment of lines is going to pay off on a long road trip. Let's hope coach Joel Quenneville opts to do so and maintains the scoring punch the 'Hawks have gotten thus far.
The Blackhawks are off to a franchise-best start. If they can keep in mind the play that produced six straight wins, it could be a very successful road trip.
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