The most grueling stretch of 2013 is over for the Chicago Blackhawks. Now comes 2014 and the next tough stretch. Technically, this will start after a game against the New Jersey Devils and then the Christmas break. After Christmas, the Blackhawks will have a rather tough stretch including games against Western Conference powers and division rivals in the coming weeks.
The Blackhawks will certainly have their work cut out for them, and with the Olympics coming up, they’ll have to be ready for anything.
The Blackhawks’ next stretch starts against a hot Devils team who are 3-0-1 in their last four games. The still-hot-after-all-these-years Jaromir Jagr is always a threat and while Martin Brodeur will (inexplicably) not start, the Devils still have a team that could escape the United Center with a win. After the Devils game, the Hawks will have to play the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings all in succession. It doesn’t get any easier.
The last time the Hawks played the Avalanche, they were decimated in their worst loss of the season. They have yet to beat the pesky Blues, who are still lurking behind the Blackhawks in the Central Division. If they want to win the division, they have to beat these teams. There is no other way of putting it. The Kings, meanwhile, are second in the Pacific Division behind their arch-rival Anaheim Ducks. None of these games should be taken lightly.
If the Blackhawks want to contend for a repeat Stanley Cup, they cannot lose to these teams. They’ve struggled against many of the better teams in the league so far this season even with some good victories against the Kings and Washington Capitals. It’s so easy to look at the team’s record and say they’re the best, but they have to prove it, and they need to stay focused on the task ahead. That cost them on Friday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
It’s especially important to be playing well once the Olympics roll around. Players like Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad (possibly), Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa will likely represent the United States, Canada and Slovakia, and it’s possible that more players will make the trip to Sochi. Anything can happen, and the team should watch out for possible injuries.
Still, there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern. Their offense is playing well and their penalty kill is finally starting to turn the corner. In what should be fantastic news in time for Christmas, Corey Crawford is said to be progressing well in his injury recovery. While Antti Raanta has been performing well, it’s Crawford’s net and his return will be welcomed.
So while the Blackhawks should be concerned over the coming weeks, they have reasons to be optimistic. However, now the hard part of the season begins as soon as 2013 rolls into 2014. This next couple of weeks could be indicative of how 2014 will go for this team.