The Chicago Blackhawks had one of their lighter skates on Thursday morning, their annual outing with family members at the United Center. Some players just goofed around with each other while others helped their kids maneuver around the ice in their little skates.
It was a nice respite for the Blackhawks, a day on which they could have a little fun, take a breath and realize just how well they’ve done thus far this season.
The Blackhawks will enter Friday night’s tilt with the Vancouver Canucks atop the Western Conference standings (25-7-5, 55 points). It’s been a productive first few months for the Blackhawks, who shed any Stanley Cup hangover talk quickly and have stayed the successful course since. They’re happy with where they are, but know they have months to go.
“You guys know, we’ve been playing games every other day, and a lot of back to backs. It’s nice to sit back, look at the standings and be satisfied with what we’ve accomplished. But we also have a veteran team that realizes nothing’s done yet,” Patrick Sharp said. “We want to use this time to get better and improve as the season goes on.”
The team’s schedule has been a hectic one. They’ve fallen on their faces in a few games – Exhibit A being their lopsided loss to Toronto over the weekend. But the Blackhawks, who showed their resilience several times during the 2013 postseason, have displayed that again following tough losses.
“We just expect a high level from each other,” Jonathan Toews said. “When things go south and we don’t play so well, we can hit the reset button and say, ‘Forget about that one, move on.’ When you have experience winning, you know what it takes to win. You understand you’ll go through tough moments and when you do, you don’t overreact to them. You just keep doing what you’re doing. We had a tough one against Toronto, we forgot about it. When you keep doing the right things, good things will happen.”
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The Blackhawks have weathered some injuries during this stretch – Bryan Bickell returned on Tuesday after a month-long injury absence. They continue to do so with their goaltenders. Corey Crawford could start skating this week, but it sounds like Nikolai Khabibulin is still nowhere near ready to return. Antti Raanta has done his part just fine. The Blackhawks acquired Jason LaBarbera from the Edmonton Oilers last week, and recalled him from Rockford this afternoon. Kent Simpson was reassigned to the IceHogs; general manager Stan Bowman said they want Simpson playing games, which he wasn’t doing much of here.
While the Blackhawks will settle into the roster freeze, which begins at midnight Eastern time, they’re not settling for what they’ve done up to this point. As strong as the Blackhawks have been, they have several teams on their tail. The Anaheim Ducks have won six in a row and are just two points back of the Blackhawks. Los Angeles entered its Thursday night game against San Jose five points behind the Blackhawks.
“As good as we’ve played, we haven’t distanced ourselves from the people behind us. That shows you how competitive the division and conference is,” Bowman said. “We’re focused on continuing to win and we’re happy with getting off to a good start. But we’re not satisfied. We want to keep going.”
The Blackhawks have won plenty these last few years because they’ve rarely been satisfied. They’ve had the same core of players, the same group of guys who won’t settle for anything less. There’s still much work to do and a lot of time before the playoffs commence. But for now, the Blackhawks will appreciate where their hard work’s gotten them entering the Christmas break.
“The thing about our team and the guys is, no one’s really ever satisfied with what we’re doing. If we lose a game it feels like things are dropping down around here a little bit,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s just exciting to be around a group that’s always trying to get better, always trying to prove (itself) and do something special.”