Big tops come to Chicago and a big trip awaits the Blackhawks? Is it mid-November already?
Yes, kids, it’s that time of year, when the Blackhawks leave for about two weeks while the circus comes to the United Center. This trip is about team bonding, maintaining energy through a lot of travel and games and keeping that road game as simple and strong as possible. So while we pack our bag(s) and take our flight(s), let’s celebrate the start of the 2013 circus trip with some random musings (always plural there).
1. In a radio interview with Hockey This Morning earlier today, a question came up about the Blackhawks’ start: was it really a slow one, or are expectations just that high that we perceived it to be slow? I talked slow start as the start was developing. But in hindsight, it wasn’t a slow start. It was a normal start. A short summer, some veterans working through injuries through training camp, readjusting in the wake of lost players, and yet the Blackhawks kept pace. Flash forward to the present: entering today’s games, the Blackhawks are atop the Western Conference standings with a 14-3-4 mark (32 points). It took a question and some hindsight to realize that, so far, the Blackhawks have had most of the right answers.
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2. The Blackhawks played 10 of their first 12 on the road last season, and that included a six-game road trip. Entering that lengthy trek, Marian Hossa remarked that they’d find out a lot about their team during it. They did indeed, and they will do the same with this trip, too. Outside of Saturday’s game in Nashville, the Blackhawks have played well on the road. They don’t feel the need to put on a show, as they sometimes do when they’re playing in front of the home fans at the United Center. Their road game is simple, it’s workmanlike and it’s usually effective. The Blackhawks will find out a lot about themselves on this trip, and much of it will be positive if they can play that classic road game.
3. Kris Versteeg needed a game like Sunday, not so much for the Blackhawks, but for himself. As I wrote the other day, Versteeg had a lot more pressure on him with the Florida Panthers than he will with the Blackhawks. Nevertheless, it sounds like he was putting a lot of pressure on himself. He wanted to play well from the start in his second stint with the Blackhawks, and it didn’t go so well against Nashville — then again, nobody in a Blackhawks uniform played well in Nashville. So good for Versteeg for shaking off whatever nerves remained and relocating his form on Sunday.
4. Speaking of Versteeg, and it is just one game, but that combination of him, Brandon Pirri and Patrick Kane looked great on Sunday. We’ll assume Versteeg will go back to the third line once Marian Hossa returns from his lower-body injury, but coach Joel Quenneville could have another option at his disposal with those three.
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5. One last item on Versteeg: for those who weren’t at the game last night, go to the Blackhawks’ video center and see their video montage to him, set to the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme. It’s just good, clean fun.
6. A Twitter follower remarked on how much he likes Marcus Kruger’s game, and that he doesn’t get enough attention. True, he probably doesn’t. Kruger does a lot of little things right, and he just puts his head down (usually along the boards) and works. And now and then he’ll bring a little flash: his pass to Patrick Sharp was as pretty, if not more so, than the Sharp one-timer it set up.
7. Brandon Saad should be a Team USA selection for the Winter Olympics, period. He’s got 13 points through 21 games, but this isn’t just about production. It’s also about having some of those blue-collar workers on the team. Saad wins puck battles, he crashes the net and he goes into the corners. As Jonathan Toews said many times last season, Saad is “fearless.” Team USA could always use a little fearless, couldn’t it?