With the Olympics over, the Chicago Blackhawks are prepping to begin the final home stretch of the 2013-14 regular season. Now the “fun” part begins (forgive the sarcasm). Now that the Games are over there will be ten guys coming back from Sochi dead tired and/or depressed, so now there’s that to worry about. But there were just as many players who took some time off from their taxing schedule and should be able to pick up the slack for the Olympians.
First things first: Bryan Bickell. Bicks has been struggling for much of the season. Bickell, a big part of the 2013 Stanley Cup run, received a big bonus after that season but has also been dealing with lower body injuries for much of the season. Two weeks off should be enough for him to clear his mind and get focused on improving his game. He should be ready to go now that he’s done with his fishing excursion.
Some of the non-Olympians who should pick up the slack will be Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Brent Seabrook. Saad’s Olympic snub was rough, but it gave him a chance to relax as he went down to Mexico with Brandon Bollig and some of the other players. Shaw, on the other hand, went to Hawaii. Saad had already been on a roll before the break, and he should find a way to get going once the season re-starts.
Corey Crawford should also be ready. Also an Olympic snub, he’ll have to get back into his groove. But after struggling for much of January, Crawford has, like the other non-Olympians, gotten some necessary rest and should be ready to go.
There are other Blackhawks who will have to step up in place of the exhausted Olympians, of course. But to the credit of head coach Joel Quenneville, he won’t push them too much with the exceptions being Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus, whose Slovakian team was sent home early.
With the Olympians already tired, the Hawks have their work cut out for them. But these non-Olympians, all of whom have considerable talent, should be ready for the opportunity. The Hawks will not have an easy schedule, and they’ll have to pull it together to play better than they did before the Olympics in the home stretch. And that all starts with the non-Olympians.