The annual Circus Trip is now officially over halfway over with the Chicago Blackhawks having played four of their seven games so far. What started poorly against the Colorado Avalanche in a 5-1 loss that forced the pulling of goaltender Corey Crawford has turned into a three game winning streak led by the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
The Blackhawks have continued to dominate offensively against lesser teams and have scored over five goals in their contests with the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers on the trip thus far. The Blackhawks also rank in the top ten in nearly every offensive category thanks in large part to Toews’ leadership as center of the top line and Kane’s 11-game points streak while largely on the second line.
Now some may see the Blackhawks’ offensive output as a product of competition. But the sample size of this trip actually reflects pretty accurately how well the Blackhawks have performed, especially of late without Marian Hossa, who is expected to rejoin the team in Calgary. According to ESPN’s Relative Power Index (RPI), the Blackhawks rank fourth in the league with regards to wins and strength of schedule.
Defensively, the Blackhawks have continued to perform rather well, despite being left shorthanded due to injuries. Niklas Hjalmarsson started the season on a tear but has cooled off a bit offensively. However, he still ranks 32nd in the league in blocked shots and has been a crucial, if underappreciated, part of a Blackhawks defense which has to improve on its 19th best goals against average.
With regards to special teams, the Blackhawks’ power play and penalty kill continue to be two very different stories. While the power play continues to look more and more efficient the penalty kill trudges behind ranking 29th in the league. Center Michal Handzus returned last night and was immediately placed on the penalty kill unit next to Marcus Kruger. Going forward, Handzus can hopefully slot in on the struggling unit which faces power plays in the bottom third of the league the next two games.
The Blackhawks need to finish strong, surviving the trip and gaining a locker room momentum that will carry throughout the rest of the season. Two games against subpar opponents lead up to the big test to end the trip with a clash against the Phoenix Coyotes. That game will be the Blackhawks’ first true test since being embarrassed by the Avalanche to start the trip.
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