Stanley Cup hangovers, the opportunity to repeat and the possibility of being a great team for the long term. The topics are par for the post-Cup victory course. It’s all about what this season could bring, especially several months from now.
But for the Chicago Blackhawks, before they worry about repeating what they did this past June, they’d like to repeat what they did this past January.
Yes, the Blackhawks would love to hoist that trophy again – and again and again. But right now, they’re not as concerned about what happens at the finish line as what they do out of the starting blocks. The Blackhawks got off to a ridiculous start last season, a 21-0-3 mark that culminated in that Stanley Cup roughly three months ago. Obviously getting off to that record again would be hard to do, but starting off strong is nevertheless top priority.
“When we think about how we want to start, how we want to play early on, we want to start like last time,” Jonathan Toews said today, the eve of the Blackhawks’ training camp. “Talk is always going to be about repeating; we understand that. But we don’t want to be talking about that yet. We want to focus on the start and not making mistakes. Preparing ourselves, we want to put ourselves in the position to be that team to compete for it again.”
The Blackhawks didn’t get the start they wanted in the 2010-11 season, but in hindsight it’s not surprising. When half your team is traded to other teams in a salary-cap mess, it’s hard to find the chemistry and right combinations right out of the gate. The Blackhawks, roster-wise, are sitting in a much prettier place this fall. Just about everyone is back. Everyone is familiar with each other. There are no guessing games, no new players learning new schemes. The sole focus is the start.
And there shouldn’t be any intimidation about having that pesky target on their backs, either.
“We expect everyone to be aware that they target Cup champions, but there won’t be surprises. The guys have seen it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The strength of the whole season last year was how we prepared. A lot are returning. We expect it’ll be in place, knowing we have to be our best at the start of the year.”
The Blackhawks will be hearing a lot of the hangover/repeat questions over the next few weeks. So many things will come into play about how the Blackhawks finish, from how they recover from this short summer to potential injuries to how other teams rise to the occasion. But right now, the Blackhawks are not so focused on the end as they are the beginning.
“You get asked those questions about the hangover but we’re looking at it in a positive way. We’re looking at it as a challenge to get off to a good start,” Duncan Keith said. “We’re excited to try to come out flying and show we’re ready to play. Just because it was a short offseason doesn’t mean we can’t be ready to go physically and mentally.”