On deck: Two tests against the West

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On deck: Two tests against the West

The Blackhawks sidestepped The Long Island Trap Thursday. Yeah, they blew a 2-0 lead, and needed overtime, but overall it was still a solid road effort against a team whose only two losses in their last six games have come in extra time against the Hawks.

The fact theyd already beaten New York a week ago and were skating in a building with an awful atmosphere showed they were mentally and emotionally locked-in, and they seem to have done that better on the road of late (four straight wins) than at home (1-1-1 since returning from the Circus Trip).

Next up, theyll need to carry that over in their next two games against two of the best in the West one expected, the other a surprise. San Joses been spinning its wheels a bit of late, but got their second win in their last six Thursday vs. Dallas. The Hawks will be looking to avenge their 1-0 loss in a well-played game in the Shark Tank on Thanksgiving Eve, when Antti Niemi shut them out. The Hawks have a 7-point edge on the Sharks, but San Jose has four games in-hand.

After that Sunday game, its two more days off before a trip for their first up-close look at the Wild story in Minnesota. The Wild and Hawks have each played a conference-high 29 games, but Minny has a three-point edge, courtesy of a six-game win streak the last three of which have opened a 5-game trip (Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles). Theyll finish it off Saturday in Phoenix, then Tuesday in Winnipeg before coming home to finish off three games in four nights against the Hawks, so thats an advantage the visitors should have.

But while the Hawks are trying to climb up the defensive rankings (13th in the West entering the weekend), the Wild have done it with D under new head coach Mike Yeo. Their 2.14 goals-against average is just behind St. Louis as second-best in the West. The Hawks were able to solve that with perhaps their most complete game of the season last Saturday in St. Louis. Lets see if they can bring the same type of game in these next two outings. San Joses GAA, by the way, is fifth in the conference (2.40).

Even though theyve been inconsistent of late, the Blackhawks have still managed to stay near the top of the West. Some goaltending (and defensive) questions have come up, and theyll need more offensive balance, as I wrote after Thursdays win. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa all enter the weekend among the NHLs top-17 point producers (Toews tied for 2nd in goals, Kane tied for first in assists).

After bursting out of the gate, it seems at times this Hawks team needs to be challenged be it with the opponent theyre playing, or needing to bounce back after unexpected setbacks. They've hit a few bumps along the way this past month and these next two games should provide an interesting gauge on whether the arrows definitely pointing up.

Kevin Dineen to stay on Blackhawks' staff as Avalanche hire Jared Bednar

Kevin Dineen to stay on Blackhawks' staff as Avalanche hire Jared Bednar

The Blackhawks' coaching staff will be intact for the 2016-17 season.

Two weeks after Patrick Roy abruptly resigned as head coach, the Colorado Avalanche officially picked Jared Bednar to be his replacement over Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen, who was among the favorites for the coaching vacancy.

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Bednar has no National Hockey League coaching experience, but did guide the Columbus Blue Jackets' American Hockey League affiliate to a 15-2 postseason record last season en route to the franchise's first Calder Cup championship.

Retaining Dineen is good news for the Blackhawks, who start training camp next month, but it goes without saying that Dineen is certainly deserving of a second crack at a head coaching position in the near future.

Dineen, Mike Kitchen and head coach Joel Quenneville will enter their third season together after helping the Blackhawks capture a Stanley Cup in their first year as a group in 2015.

Jonathan Toews named Team Canada alternate captain for World Cup of Hockey

Jonathan Toews named Team Canada alternate captain for World Cup of Hockey

Jonathan Toews was named alternate captain of Team Canada on Thursday for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

Sidney Crosby was named Team Canada’s captain. Crosby, who claimed his second Stanley Cup in June, was also Team Canada’s captain en route to the gold medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

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Toews, who has been the Blackhawks’ captain since the 2008-09 season, was also alternate captain of Canada’s 2014 Olympic squad. Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens will serve as Team Canada’s other alternate captain.

Duncan Keith won't play for Team Canada in World Cup of Hockey

Duncan Keith won't play for Team Canada in World Cup of Hockey

Duncan Keith will not be part of the Blackhawks’ World Cup of Hockey contingent after all.

Keith will focus on improving his health rather than play for Team Canada in the tournament, which takes place next month in Toronto. The Blackhawks released a statement regarding Keith on Wednesday afternoon.

"As Duncan continues offseason rehabilitation on the right knee injury that he sustained last season, we understand his decision not to participate in next month’s World Cup of Hockey," team physician Dr. Michael Terry said in the statement. "We believe it is in his best interests to focus on getting stronger and not risk further injury."

Keith had surgery on that knee last October and was sidelined about one month.

St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will take Keith’s place.