January is just about finished, and the Chicago Blackhawks are likely very happy about that.
It was a rather forgettable month for the Blackhawks, who went 5-3-6 during it. They couldn’t have ended it much better, though, scoring five unanswered goals in their 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. It got the Blackhawks back on track after a rough outing in Calgary, and they sit at 1-0-1 heading into the next part of this road trip.
But tough West Coast opponents await in the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and those Anaheim Ducks that always give the Blackhawks such a problem. So while we have our fingers crossed that standby gets us out of Las Vegas and into San Jose as soon as possible, we visit some random Blackhawks musings.
1. This team is not struggling. January wasn’t their greatest month but they got points in 11 out of their 14 games. Two seasons ago around this time of year, the Blackhawks had a nine-game winless streak (0-8-1). That was struggling. This is a hiccup, a blip on the radar, and in an 82-game season it’s going to happen, even to an elite group such as this. Hey, if you’re going to have some rough moments, might as well do it right before the break. The Blackhawks came out so strong, so determined to show they weren’t suffering a Stanley Cup hangover that they were bound to bump into a wall. It’ll be OK, my young grasshoppers.
2. I wrote on Wednesday that it looked like the Blackhawks flipped a switch as soon as Marian Hossa scored that power-play goal. While the Blackhawks had a lot of shots in the first period, they also looked shaky. Their passing wasn’t crisp and it was wayward. They looked uncertain and unprepared when Vancouver did get in their zone. Now look back from the Hossa goal on: passing was on target, the panic was gone and the confidence was restored. The Blackhawks looked like they did from October through December again and if this is their game the rest of this road trip, they’ll go into the Olympic break a happy bunch.
3. Remember when we wrote the penalty kill is getting better? It still is. The Blackhawks have now allowed just two power-play goals in their last 10 games (25 of 27). The kill is still ranked low because it was so bad earlier this season (27th in the NHL), but it’s 16th overall on the road, successful 82 percent of the time. Good to know as they trek onward.
4. Here’s our friendly reminder to Bryan Bickell as he continues to search for his game and fight his confidence: you had your greatest games at the most pressure-packed time of the season, that being the postseason. The time when some players falter, you flourished. If you could do it in June, you can do it in January, February and March. God speed.
5. Here’s our annual reminder to not fall into the foolish rumor trap. Seriously, think about some of these before you consider them possible. That is all.
6. Brandon Bollig had a game-high six shots on goal against the Canucks on Wednesday night, another sign that he’s no longer that one-dimensional guy. He was also very focused on the game; when I joked with him after that he channeled his inner Patrick Sharp with that many shots in a game, he said, “I did?”
7. Asked coach Joel Quenneville how he liked Brandon Pirri’s return against Calgary: “He did all right. That line (with him, Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane) was dangerous. I thought Brandon had some responsibilities in all zones and I liked his game.” That’s good for Pirri, who obviously got the message that the Blackhawks wanted him to be an all-around player, not just an offense-only one. He keeps improving that defense, he will stick around this time.