With a perfect 6-0-0 (12 points) record the Chicago Blackhawks true test will come on their six game road trip starting Jan.30 in Minnesota.
In a shortened season the Blackhawks have already established themselves as the best team in the NHL. The Blackhawks will be away from the “Madhouse on Madison” as Disney on Ice presents Rockin’ Ever After takes over the United Center.
The first half of the trip will feature match-ups against the Minnesota Wild (2-2-1, five points), the Vancouver Canucks (2-2-2, six points) and the Calgary Flames (1-2-1, three points). The Blackhawks will face these three teams in a span of four nights. The first slice of the trip should be a piece of cake for the Hawks, as the first three teams have had an average start to their 2013 crusade.
The second part of the road trip won’t be as smooth. The Hawks first test will be against the San Jose Sharks (5-0-0, 10 points), who is the only other undefeated team in the NHL and behind the Blackhawks in the Western Conference. This early season face-off can very well be the future Western Conference final pairing.
The Blackhawks will then travel back to Phoenix where the Coyotes will look to avenge the early season 6-4 loss. The Coyotes have improved since Chicago departed, though: they have won both of their home games since hosting Chicago, beating Columbus 5-1, and shutting out Nashville, 4-0.
The road trip ends with a clash in Music City against the Nashville Predators. The Blackhawks have struggled against defenseman Shea Weber’s and goalie Pekka Rinne’s Predators, going 5-5-2 in the past two seasons.
The Blackhawks take this trip after an already grueling road schedule against Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas and Columbus over a span of 10 days. This trip will cover more than 5,600 miles within a span of two weeks. This will test the Hawks and give us a clearer picture of who is the best team in the NHL.
Three keys to a successful trip.
One of the biggest flaws to the 2011-12 season is now the Blackhawks strength. I’m talking about their net-minders. So far this season Corey Crawford has compiled a 5-0 record with a 1.78 GAA. Ray Emery has only played in one game having appeared in the Phoenix shoot-out. Emery holds a 1-0 record with a 4.00 GAA.
Emery will start in a couple of games this road trip and he needs to show a better effort between the cross bars. Crawford needs to continue to suck up every puck like he has so far this season.
The Blackhawks defense has only given up 13 goals this season and an average 2.6 goals per game. The defense will need to get a little better as the Canucks, Sharks and Coyotes have an impressive offensive attack.
Defensemen Brent Seabrook and former James Norris Memorial Trophy award winner Duncan Keith (2009-10) need to step up their play. Keith has a plus/minus of -5 while his partner Seabrook has -4. These guys need to start adding to their plus/minus.
Ever since the first puck of the season was dropped, the Blackhawks have been playing high intensity hockey. Their offense has been led by a rejuvenated Patrick Kane (eight points), a healthy Marian Hossa (eight points), a crafty Patrick Sharp (six points) and the man with the “C” on his sweater Jonathan Toews (six points).
These six games are going to be tough to stay healthy and intense. The Blackhawks seemed to lose their intensity during the Detroit Red Wings game, in which the Blackhawks won 2-1 in overtime.
If the Blackhawks can do these three things, the Blackhawks will come back home from this tough stretch of games with more victories and will be the best team in the NHL.