December was a kind month for the Chicago Blackhawks, but January will be much more of a challenge, and every game is important for the West's top team.
There are 13 games on Chicago's January schedule—five games are against division opponents, nine opponents are Western Conference foes, and 11 of the 13 opponents have a record over .500.
Fortunately, the Hawks host nine of the 13 January contests at the Madhouse on Madison before a busy month of February that begins with an 18-day road-trip. The last time the Blackhawks went on an extended road-trip was the dreaded Circus Trip back in mid-November when the team collected six points out of a possible 12.
Every member on the Blackhawks is going to need to take it easy on New Year's Eve and avoid any sort of hangover, because Joel Quenneville is going to need all of his guys' freshest legs for the month of January, and the team's first game is against the young, but talented, Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 2.
The Hawks are scheduled to play the Philadelphia Flyers in Philly's barn on January 5th for a rematch between the two teams that met in the '10 Stanley Cup Finals when the Blackhawks hoisted the Cup at season's end.
Jan. 5th will be just the second time these two teams have met since the '10 Stanley Cup. Philly came away with a 4-1 win when these two played in Chicago last season. Corey Crawford was between the pipes for Chicago then, stopping 30 of the 33 shots he faced.
Jeff Carter led the way for Philly, scoring two goals and an assist on Scott Hartnell's empty net goal, but Carter is no longer with the Flyers. He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to this season.
Carter isn't the only member of the '10 Flyers who won't be present for the Jan. 5th dance with the Blackhawks. Chris Pronger, formerly known as Chrissy Pronger to many Hawks fans, will be absent, too. The Flyers' captain is out for the entire regular season and playoffs after sustaining a concussion in November.
The Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings' storied rivalry dates back when the two were apart of the Original Six, and that rivalry will continue in the upcoming month of January because the two teams are scheduled to meet twice in a seven-day span.
Both teams are currently in the top eight of the Western Conference standings, but every possible two points are crucial, and you can be sure that no win will be easy for either team when they face-off.
These two organizations certainly respect each other and what each have accomplished throughout history and most recently, but be assured that no love is lost, especially because these two meetings will be the second and third in a 16-day span.
Chicago and Detroit are scheduled to meet six times this season.
It's a battle for every seed in the NHL's Western Conference, and it doesn't get any easier for the Chicago Blackhawks when they have to play three of the West's top teams in a four-day span like they do in mid-January.
On January 12th, the Hawks host a revitalized Minnesota Wild team. Two days later, the Hawks have to travel to Detroit to play the Red Wings for the second time in a seven-day span, and then the next day the San Jose Sharks come to the United Center.
The Hawks have played the Wild once and Sharks twice already this season. They prevailed over the Wild in a shootout and Sharks in OT, but in the first meeting between the Sharks and Hawks Antti Niemi shutout his former mates in a 1-0 win in favor of San Jose.
Three very tough opponents on the Blackhawks' schedule in just four days. Three very physical teams, and three teams with outstanding goaltending.
Be sure that each of these three teams will bring its best games to play the Blackhawks, and like always, no win will come easy.
Don't be surprised if Blackhawks backup goalie Ray Emery gets the nod in at least one of these contests.
Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon spent 33 years with the Blackhawks organization before taking his talents to South Beach. He was Chicago's GM from 2005-09.
Tallon was a big part of the reason why the Blackhawks were Stanley Cup champs in 2010, because he brought together many of the pieces on the championship roster.
One of the players Tallon signed when he was GM in Chicago was Brian Campbell, but he did the Hawks a favor this past summer when he traded for the same guy he rewarded with an eight-year, $57M contract before the start of the 2008 season.
Tallon and the Panthers have also acquired former Blackhawks Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg and Jack Skille.
The Hawks are hosting the Panthers at the Madhouse on Madison on Friday, January 20th.
The Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks are one of the NHL's most recently developed rivalries because of back-to-back-to-back meetings in the postseason the past three seasons.
These two teams despise each other because of a number of instances that have taken place over the years, such as the 2009 line brawl that ended with Alex Burrows pulling Duncan Keith's hair, or when Raffi Torres took a run at Brent Seabrook and knocked him out of a couple of first round games last postseason.
Both teams have no fear of embarrassing one another, especially in front of the opposing home crowd. The first two games between the Hawks and Canucks this season have combined for a total of 14 goals. Vancouver won the first contest in Chicago 6-2, but the Hawks came right back next time out and won 5-1 in Vancouver.
Vancouver hosts the Blackhawks on January 31st—the start of a nine-game road trip for the Hawks that goes until February 18th.
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