As Viktor Stalberg redirected a Duncan Keith rip from the top of the circle the fans said goodbye to the men in red, in hopes that the recent home-woes aren’t nearly as dreadful on the road. Nearing the quarter-mark of the season the Chicago Blackhawks have established everything but conference dominance.
After Sunday’s victory over the streaking Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks finally were able to take a sigh of relief in ending a four-game home losing streak. If there were an important game in this young season it was this one. The Blackhawks will now hit the road for a six-game trip that could very much make or break an already unnerving season.
In the next two weeks the Blackhawks will face perhaps the best of the best in the Western Conference. With Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Jose on the schedule, one really must look no further. A rematch with Anaheim and another game against the Hawk-killing Edmonton Oilers will ice the trip.
At 9-9-2, the Blackhawks face a gut-wrenching task of trying just to keep their heads above water against the elites. In search of some sort of leadership, the comparisons to a season ago have become extinct and the acceptance of mediocrity has grown across a critic-filled fan base.
A year ago, the Blackhawks thrived upon a balanced attack that was back-stopped by a solid defensive effort. While goalie skepticism has ruled the air-waves, the lack of team effort seems to outweigh any up or down endured thus far. Currently, the Blackhawks rank in the bottom half of all important defensive categories: goals against average, shots allowed and save percentage.
In order to right the damaged ship, the Blackhawks must go back to the basics. With the exception of the power play, the Blackhawks have no bragging rights. Night in and night out the urgency seems to be lacking, though last night at least showed glimpses of what could be if the Blackhawks play to the level they are capable of.
At this point the Blackhawks have played the most games of any NHL team. While fans hoped this would have been a good thing entering the long road trip, it has, in fact, placed fear in many followers. The Blackhawks already have nine losses—a point they didn't reach until a loss to San Jose on December 22nd of last season. A direct representation of the change is in recent power rankings which have the Blackhawks mired in mediocrity ranked in the middle of the league.
Now what the young team faces is a road trip that typically measures the kind of success that will follow. And while sitting at .500, the pressure facing the team can be felt all the way back at the United Center. As expectations continue to taper, coaches continue to search for answers. Right now any answer would be a sufficient answer, but until consistency sets in the Blackhawks will remain a “yester-thought” of the conference elite.