The Chicago Blackhawks have avoided many of the pitfalls that can befall a team attempting to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The 'Hawks have played well enough to sit atop the Western Conference standings going into Thursday's game in Winnipeg.
What is starting to loom as a potential sticking point for Chicago, however, is the health of its roster.
Bryan Bickell became the latest player to join the ranks of the injured after sliding into the net in the first period of Tuesday's 5-1 loss to Colorado. Bickell's left leg seems to be the issue after it struck the goalpost.
The big forward is questionable for Thursday. Whether he plays or not, Bickell's situation is indicative of the struggle every team can have keeping its players on the ice.
The 'Hawks are hoping to get Marian Hossa back from his own lower-body injury. Hossa has missed each of Chicago's last two games and also has a back that has been watched closely by the organization.
When Nikolai Khabibulin went down in Nashville last Saturday, he became the third Blackhawks player to be placed on long-term injured reserve. Michal Handzus and Michael Kostka have been on LTIR since Nov. 14.
Chicago still has a roster loaded with weapons. However, there has to be some concern with the rash of injuries, which can derail a team's title hopes as much as any opponent.
The 'Hawks recalled forward Jeremy Morin Wednesday as insurance in case Bickell or Hossa are out of the lineup Thursday. With Bickell leaving the game early and Sheldon Brookbank skating as a forward, the Blackhawks were essentially down to 10 forwards for most of Tuesday's loss. That can't happen if Chicago wants a winning road trip.
All of a sudden, depth could prove to be a big hurdle for the Blackhawks to negotiate in the short term.
Even a pickup like Kris Versteeg isn't immune to injury speculation, having missed most of last season with a knee injury. Versteeg provides scoring punch and can be a valuable addition, but he has missed his share of games in recent seasons.
Chicago is going to have to rely on some younger players in the face of injury. Coach Joel Quenneville needs to give Morin more than the abbreviated ice time he received in his first stint with the team this season.
Antti Raanta was thrown into the fray in Colorado after the 'Hawks surrendered three first-period goals. Raanta could well get his first NHL start against the Jets. If not, expect to see him at least a time or two on the rest of the Circus Trip.
Hoping for good fortune for Hossa and Bickell is fine and good. However, over the course of 82 games, players are going to be injured. Dealing with the loss of key players is something all teams have to face. Right now, the Blackhawks are having to fight a similar battle.
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