Blackhawks musings: No signs of a letdown

Blackhawks musings: No signs of a letdown
December 16, 2013, 2:30 pm
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Ah, Monday. It’s time start a new week, time to let the weekend go and time to get back to work (for those of you with true weekdays and weekends, anyway).

Since the Chicago Blackhawks’ schedule has been hectic lately, we’ve had little time for random thoughts and musings. But it’s Monday, the Blackhawks are flying to Nashville, so there’s no time like the present. So while you try to shake off that Sunday brunch, we bring you some Monday musings.

1. As the Blackhawks near the Christmas break, they’re sitting atop the Western Conference standings. Not bad for a team that was supposed to be suffering from a Stanley Cup hangover and has gone through a glut of injuries, from goaltenders on out. General manager Stan Bowman, speaking last week – the Blackhawks were in first place then, too – is obviously happy with how the Blackhawks have performed thus far.

“If you would’ve told me in July that, come December, we’d be No. 1 in the league, I’d be pleased with that,” Bowman said. “There are going to be challenges throughout the season. We’ve had some adversity, and there will probably be more to come. But for the most part we’ve had consistency. We’ve had good efforts, we’ve been in the games and we’re getting contributions from a lot of different people, which you have to have. It’s not like we’re relying on two guys to carry the team. Our top guys have been good, but even our fourth line’s been great this year and probably more productive. All in all, it’s been a nice start.”

2. Bryan Bickell is traveling to Nashville with the Blackhawks today. As of last night, coach Joel Quenneville said the forward, who’s coming off a left-leg injury, was still more likely to play on Friday night against the Vancouver Canucks. Still, if he has a good skate on Tuesday morning and feels ready to go, we wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back in the lineup tomorrow night against the Predators.

We wouldn’t be on it, but there it is nonetheless. If Bickell’s given a few more days, then look for Sheldon Brookbank to play as a third-line forward again. Jeremy Morin was reassigned to Rockford on Monday, and Brookbank, if he plays, will have the physical element the team will need against the Predators.

3. We’ve talked plenty about Antti Raanta, and for good reason. The goaltender’s been carrying the load since Corey Crawford went down with his apparent groin injury, and he’s handled it all well. We’d be stunned if he didn’t get the start against the Predators tomorrow (recently acquired Jason LaBarbera is remaining with Rockford for now). The kid can handle the pace, can handle back to backs (he did get an unplanned 20 minutes of rest on Saturday night) and can handle the pressure. The offseason signing is paying off.

4. Speaking of goaltender trial-by-fire, kudos to former Blackhawks/IceHogs goalie Carter Hutton for being named the NHL’s third star of the past week. Hutton went 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average last week for the Predators, who upended the Sharks and former Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi (anyone confused yet?) on Sunday. Hutton and Raanta have had similar starts to 2013-14: neither expected to get this much playing time with the big club, but both are due to teammates’ injuries. While Hutton had some tough moments behind a Predators team that’s been up and down, this past week was a confidence builder for him. Now let’s see if he starts against his former organization tomorrow night (he didn’t in November).

5. See Patrick Kane score goals. See Patrick Kane record assists. See Patrick Kane just tally points at will recently, first on a 12-game streak that was snapped with one point-less game and now on a nine-game run. And if this keeps up, see Patrick Kane get serious recognition for, possibly even win, the Hart Trophy this spring.

6. Coach Joel Quenneville won his 684th game on Sunday night, tying him with Pat Quinn for fourth on the coaches all-time win list. He’s only eight victories behind the third-place Dick Irvin, who won 692 games as head coach of Chicago (twice), Toronto and Montreal. Prior to the 2012-13 season, Quenneville was supposedly on the hot seat. It sounded like an absurd notion then; it really sounds absurd now.

7. Speaking of Quenneville, he was predictably humble when asked about the coaching milestone following Sunday night’s victory over the Kings. He’s happy to be here, as is his family. He’s got a great job in a great city, and that’s all he wants. So does he think he has a chance of reaching Scotty Bowman’s incredible mark of 1,244 coaching victories? “No chance,” he said with a laugh.