Chicago Blackhawks: Time to Climb the Western Conference Ladder

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Chicago Blackhawks: Time to Climb the Western Conference Ladder
Bill Smith/Getty Images
Duncan Keith and the Chicago Blackhawks have three winnable games this week.

The Chicago Blackhawks currently sit in second place in the NHL's Central Division and fifth in the Western Conference with 22 points. There is no need for hysterics 15 games into the season. Just the same, this would be a good week to start a move to the top of the conference.

The Blackhawks have six points for the taking in this week's games. Through the middle of November, Chicago hosts four of it's next six contests, including two of the three they have in the next five days.

Wednesday sees the Winnipeg Jets coming to town for a rematch of this past weekend's tilt, won 5-1 by the 'Hawks. Chicago has another road-home back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, traveling to Dallas and returning home to take on the Edmonton Oilers.

Any conference opponent needs to be taken seriously. However, the fact is that the Stars, Jets and Oilers occupy the 11th, 13th and 14th positions in the Western Conference standings. These are all winnable games.

First up is Winnipeg, who is coming off of a 4-2 victory over Detroit Monday. The Jets skated that game without Evander Kane, who is nursing a lower-body injury. As reported in The Hockey News, Kane won't be in the lineup against the 'Hawks.

In net for the Jets should be Ondrej Pavelec, whom the Blackhawks chased from Saturday's game in the second period. It's likely Pavelec wants to rebound from his worst start of the season and will be on his game in Chicago. (UPDATE, 3:00 p.m.: According to the Winnipeg Sun, it looks like Chicago native Al Montoya will be getting the start. The Sun also reports that Kane will be in the lineup as well.)

Center Bryan Little has five points in his past four games, though he was scoreless and a minus-two against Chicago Saturday. He had a goal and an assist Monday in the win over the Red Wings.

There is no reason to doubt Corey Crawford will be in goal for the 'Hawks. It is a possibility that coach Joel Quenneville hands the road start against the Stars to Nikolai Khabibulin in an attempt to get his backup on track.

It also may be that he will use Khabibulin against his old Edmonton teammates. However, I would think a road appearance would be preferable after he was pulled in his last home start.

With a seven-game road trip looming to close out the month, the Blackhawks will do well to take advantage of the current schedule and start closing the gap between themselves and the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs sit atop the Central Division just two points in front of Chicago but do have two games in hand.

Showdowns with Colorado, Vancouver and Phoenix come during the Circus Trip. For now, concentrating on picking up two points in each of the next three games is what's important.

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