The Chicago Blackhawks are taking their act on the road, and it really couldn't come at a better time.
The struggling Hawks are hoping to find success out of a suitcase for the next two weeks, as they embark on their annual November swing out west. This is commonly referred to as the "circus trip," because the Blackhawks are temporarily ousted from the United Center by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, who drive in stakes for a two-week run.
The Hawks are departing town on a promising note, beating Anaheim in a shootout last night after having earned a point in Nashville Saturday. Will the Blackhawks build on the weekend and put on the Greatest Show On Earth on the road in some key conference games?
Or will Chicago continue to look like clowns?
Let's look at the six road games coming up in the next two weeks, then hit on six keys to a successful circus trip.
1. November 17th at Edmonton
The Oilers have won just four games this year, but half of those came in front of stunned Chicago crowds. Are two embarrassing losses at home enough for the Hawks to man up and come out of Edmonton with a win?
2. November 19th at Calgary
The first clash of the season with a team that we've owned in recent seasons. Chicago swept the season series last year. The Flames are 4-4 at home, so this is a very winnable game.
3. November 20th at Vancouver
It would be nice to come into this game on a winning streak. The Canucks have been waiting for us to come back to their building since May. They are 6-0-1 so far at home this season. The Hawks' shootout victory (in which we also lost a lead in the third period) last month only adds to the continuation to what's become a nice rivalry. Can we be physical enough to pull this one out?
4. November 24th at San Jose
They're going to put Antti Niemi in goal that night, right? Do you think he'll have anything to play for?
5. November 26th at Anaheim
A rematch of last night's 3-2 Hawks victory. I'm sure the Ducks felt like they could have stolen that game from us and are looking forward to getting us at their place, where they're currently 7-1-1.
6. November 27th at Los Angeles
The Hawks opponent in the finale of this trip is only the Western Conference leader right now. Oh, and as of today, they've not lost at home.
1. Get Off to a Fast Start
Getting two wins over the Oilers and Flames is essential because after that there are four teams that are playing well, taking care of business at home and have had their night with Chicago circled on their calenders for awhile.
2. Let the Stars Come Out To Shine
Role players like Fernando Pisani, Viktor Stalberg, Jake Dowell (how can you not like this guy?), Jack Skille and even Bryan Bickell have been stepping up their play. Now the core guys need to do the same.
Sunday was a good indicator that core guys like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa can start to be difference-makers in close games this season. If a returning Dave Bolland can just get up to speed on the road trip, I'll be convinced that he's fully healthy and ready to start contributing points.
3. Step on the Opposition's Throat
No matter where the Blackhawks are playing, they have got to start putting teams away.
This weekend's loss to Nashville was right off this season's blueprint. Take a lead into the third, fail to hold on. Even in Sunday night's win, the Hawks led 2-1 in the second period and failed on several outstanding opportunities to take a commanding lead.
Yet again, the Hawks squandered a third-period lead at home. If Corey Crawford doesn't make a heck of a play after a Chicago turnover, we're talking about four straight losses after leading in the last 20 minutes.
The Blackhawks have not held a multiple-goal advantage in their last six contests. That must change.
4. Play for the Full 60 minutes
Lapses in play have cost Chicago dearly so far this season. The Hawks have played 14 one-goal contests. They have won just six of those games in spite of having a lead in the third period in many of them. Taking shifts off on the road is not acceptable when two points are to be had.
5. Let Some Lines Settle in and Develop Chemistry
Coach Joel Quenneville has never been afraid to shuffle his lines between games or during games. Now that he finally has a healthy squad, I would like to see him let some guys get used to playing with each other. Hey, he's the coach and he can play guys where he wants, but it would be nice to see him go with a lineup for at least two or three games.
6. Develop Camaraderie
Last year's circus trip was definitely the start of bigger things, as the Hawks went 4-2, capped off an eight-game win streak and really set the tone for the rest of the season. They also made a concerted effort to build team unity while on the road. A field trip to Vegas is planned this year when the Hawks have some off days in California. Hopefully that will change Chicago's luck.
I think it's realistic to expect another 4-2 circus trip out of the Blackhawks. They have two winnable games at the start of the trip in which to build some momentum. The last four games are going to be tough, but the Hawks have beaten three of these teams already this season and should be able to manage a split of those games as they close out the trip.
Hopefully the circus trip is just the tonic the Blackhawks need to squash their recent inconsistency and finally get back to the business of winning hockey games.
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