From December to remember to....

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From December to remember to....

At the risk of being a grinch, this next month will tell us a whole lot more about the Blackhawks than this last one since they returned from the Circus Trip. Give them a well-deserved pat on the back for their impressive 8-1-1 record so far in December. But while we got two doses of the Islanders, and single servings of the Ducks, Flames and Canadiens, if you haven't noticed what lies ahead, you'll see what I mean. You, me Joel Quenneville, Stan Bowman and probably every player in that locker room will have a better grasp of exactly who they are when the calendar flips to February. That happens right after the opener of nine straight road games against their old buddies from Vancouver, which has gone 7-2-1 in its last 10. It might not be a bad idea to punch the clock again Monday by regaining momentum against worst-in-the-NHL Columbus, not looking ahead like we'll do right now:
> Wednesday: LOS ANGELES
1-0-1 under Darryl Sutter and facing desperation to get back in the playoff hunt or prepare for an unexpected, embarrassing miss.

> Friday: DETROIT
The Wings lurk just five points back, and get back to work with back-to-backs against Nashville & St. Louis

> Sunday: EDMONTON
Remember 9-2? A huge chance for revenge here with these Young Guns tasting some serious Humble Pie of late (3-8-1 in their last 12)

> Jan. 5th: @ Philadelphia
It's the FlyGuys first game since the Winter Classic HBO's cameras go away

> Jan. 6th: COLORADO
Like the Oilers, they're back down to earth after beating the Hawks in a shootout at the UC that improved their record to 6-2. But make sure those legs are ready. Their speed is dangerous.
> Jan. 8th: DETROIT
After not seeing them the first 37 games, I can hearf the chants now for a second time in 10 days? Will the Hawks still be 5 ahead? More? Less?

> Jan. 10th: @ Columbus
A "break"? A "breather"? As long as they don't think that way....
> Jan. 12th: MINNESOTA
Where will the Wild Things be at this point? They're still just three points behind the Hawks despite their current 0-4-2 slump. Will their ship be righted?
> Jan. 14th: @ Detroit
Oh. Them again?
> Jan. 15th: SAN JOSE
Nice back-to-back

> Jan. 18th: BUFFALO
One of the disappointments of the East desperately needs Ryan Miller to be Ryan Miller again

> Jan. 20th: FLORIDA
Maybe the best line in hockey (in Kris Versteeg's & Brian Campbell's first game back) & maybe the biggest surprise in hockey, leading the Southeast. Big.

> Jan. 21st: @ Nashville
Which way will the Preds be streaking at this point?

> Jan. 24th: NASHVILLE
Never fun facing Trotzy's Troop twice in a row
> Jan. 31st: @ Vancouver
They have six days of rest to rev up for the start of the massive roadie. Where will the last two Western Conference champions stand at this point?

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

The Blackhawks' season ended much sooner than expected after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Nashville Predators.

But for some players, their hockey season may not be finished yet.

The IIHF World Championships begin May 5, and an early postseason exit gives several Blackhawks an opportunity to play in the tournament.

With the National Hockey League saying it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, players may be more inclined to join given the uncertainty of when they'll be able to represent their countries again — if ever, for some.

Here's an update on which Blackhawks players could be participating:

— Patrick Kane said Saturday he's taking the weekend to mull over Team USA's offer, and will make a final decision in the next "day or two."

— Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews each declined their invites from Team Canada, electing to use a lengthy offseason to recharge and focus on training for the 2017-18 NHL season.

— Corey Crawford and Nick Schmaltz said they have not been contacted by their respective countries, but both said they would consider going if they are.

— Artemi Panarin has reportedly already accepted Team Russia's offer to play.

— Niklas Hjalmarsson said he's "thinking about" Team Sweden's offer after the NHL's decision not to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics. "Who knows when I'll ever get a chance to play for my country again, so that might be factor," he said.

— Marcus Kruger said he's talking with Team Sweden officials, and has expressed interest in going.

— Marian Hossa said he informed Team Slovakia that he will not be playing: "Let the young guys play."

— Richard Panik will not be participating either, saying he doesn't want to risk injury as he seeks a new contract.

Jonathan Toews will make 'little changes' to offseason prep

Jonathan Toews will make 'little changes' to offseason prep

Jonathan Toews gave a succinct "no" when asked if he'd consider playing in the World Championships next month in Europe. For the Blackhawks captain, his 2016-17 season wasn't where it needed to be.

So instead of helping Team Canada across the pond, he'll prepare to help the Blackhawks more next season.

Toews will use this offseason in a variety of ways, including taking some time completely off to heal and rest. And while there's a lot of time between now and the Blackhawks' training camp, Toews said competing in the World Championships would take up a good amount of time he'd rather use to be ready for the fall.

"At this point of my career, going through the last couple of years the way things have played out, there are some little changes here and there with how I approach my preparation, especially the last summer being a long offseason and coming in feeling I was as prepared as I could be and still not getting to the level of play I wanted to this season," Toews said on Saturday. "There are some things I have to re-evaluate and think about this offseason. There's no satisfaction there but definitely take a different approach with how I prepare for next season. I didn't get to the level I needed to be to help our team survive a little bit longer in this last series, so I have to be responsible for that as well. Just look back, assess and see what you can do differently."

Toews had a slow start to the season and then missed three weeks with a reported back injury. Much like the rest of the Blackhawks he started heating up in February and finished the regular season with 21 goals. But it was another quiet postseason for him, as Toews had just one goal in the four games against the Nashville Predators, and that was a late-regulation power-play goal in Game 4.

So was Toews dealing with a physical issue? Asked how healthy he was, Toews said, "well, that's kind of one of the things I'm hitting on," but didn't get more specific than that. Coach Joel Quenneville said some of the Blackhawks' key players, "have some issues they're taking care of, but I don't think it's going to be to that extent to where it's long term care." Quenneville also said any health issues had nothing to do with what happened in this series. Toews certainly wasn't using it as an excuse, either. As for the future, Toews said he'll reconfigure his workout, training regimen, whatever necessary to be better next season.

"Just the way the speed of the game has changed the last few years. I've always been the type of player who likes to play heavy and protect the puck in the corners. It seems the strength has been a factor but also the speed in my game that I used to have in my younger years," Toews said. "I have to get back to playing more puck possession, more speed on the rush. That right there is one little thing. But I think the skill part is another thing I'll have to focus on and trying to get back to playing the way I can."