The Wrap Around: Chicago Blackhawks Circus Trip

Each week, Rick Rischall and I will be getting together to talk about what’s going on with the Blackhawks, whether its roster transactions, hot streaks, or an important road stretch. This week, we are previewing the Blackhawks circus trip, so we’ll be sharing our thoughts regarding the first leg of the trip which extends into Canada.  We’ll also add some key players to keep an eye on.

Take it away Rick!

Step Right Up

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls; It is once again time for the Greatest Road Show on Ice. Or, as the Chicago Blackhawks have come to call it – the annual circus trip.

It is named in honor of the fact that every year, for two weeks at the end of November, their United Center ice becomes home to the circus. Thus, vanquishing the boys to the road for their longest road trip of the year.

This year’s schedule brings the Oilers, Flames, Canucks, Sharks, Ducks and Kings – Oh My! The trip seems a bit more daunting considering the Blackhawks’ current road record of 2-5.

Fear not faithful fans! As your ringmaster’s, we will guide you on this fantastic journey. Using past history as our guide, the Blackhawks haven’t had a losing circus trip since 2007.

Given the incredible competition and talent in the Western Conference, and especially within the Central Division, the temptation may be to call this trip a make or break. Rather than initially worry about the record (we shall prognosticate in a bit), let’s focus on the importance of this trip for two reasons:

  1. The team is finally healthy – and winning. Welcome back Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival! Two games back and two wins, including a gritty, physical victory over St. Louis in enemy territory and an efficient win the next night over Calgary back at home. That stability is key, and as Kristi will cover, helps calm down the Q blender up front as well. The Blackhawks will be riding the momentum, and health at the perfect time.
  2. Two weeks away from the family, even if over Thanksgiving (the U.S. version, so how much does it matter to this team with Patrick Kane, Tanner Kero, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Scott Darling being the only Americans currently on the roster?) should have some perks for the team. It will allow them to form a bond. Don’t underestimate the importance of their Mario Kart tournaments, Las Vegas excursion and the like.

Speaking of which, hey Kristi, do you think Artemi Panarin will like Las Vegas much? Anyhow, when they come back in December, they should know exactly who they are, and what they are capable of this year.

To quote the red hot Patrick Kane: “This trip has been good to us the last couple of years. It’s kind of where we come together as a team and seems like we take off on trips like this.”

As for me, looking at the schedule, I expect another solid trip. Six points honestly is great and will be enough to keep the Blackhawks in the playoff race. Anything above six is gravy while anything less is a turkey. It’s pointless to go with game by game predictions. We all know up is down, and down up in hockey. Which brings us to those who are up, namely Marko Dano. Is he going to be this year’s circus trip MVP?

The Hawks High-Wire Act

Hey, Rick!

These are all some great points. I agree that the Hawks would likely take a .500 trip, but I think they are all looking for a better mark than that. They’ve already beaten four of the teams in the Kings, Ducks, Flames, and Oilers. The other two are going to be seeing the real high-wire act in the Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane line for the first time. So, I would expect the trio might have the advantage with the Sharks and Canucks.

For anyone who has been paying attention to the NHL this season, the line of Anisimov, flanked by Kane and Panarin has been the money line for the Blackhawks.  No team has found a solution that is effective for sixty minutes.

Sure, teams have tried to double up with defenders on either Panarin, or Kane, but both are so elusive. If the opposition does manage to pin one of them down they generally pay for it, as both Kane and Panarin are so adept at dropping the puck in the right areas, or slipping it through and landing it on the tape of an open stick, which almost always translates to a high percentage scoring opportunity, or a goal. The stability from the back end with Keith quarterbacking plays, and some added scoring from at least one more line would certainly go a long way towards putting the famous coach Q line blender on pause.  In fact, I would say secondary scoring is mandatory for the success of this road trip. Having said that, I think the top-line has been knocking on the door for a while now. There are a couple of key things to look at with the top-line in particular. Thus far, Marko Dano has looked like the best fit of all that have rotated in, but here are a couple things he will have to do to stay there. Dano needs to work on skating into the zone. Often times he glides in, and it leads to a loss of momentum that allows the other team to take advantage. He has to keep moving his feet and aggressively move the puck, even if he has no one coming behind him. Good things happen when he’s aggressive.   Which leads to my next point, one of the things that I have liked about Dano’s game is that he has been very aggressive. He’s laying out hits in the corners, chasing loose pucks, and taking shots on goal. He needs to continue that.     He also needs to understand his own value on that top-line and make sure he isn’t getting starstruck. When he starts to defer to Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, passing before he takes a high percentage shot, coach Joel Quenneville’s trigger finger is going to get itchy. So, the key to Dano’s game is to take shots when he has them, and only pass when the shot selection isn’t favorable. He’s had some good looks, granted he got robbed in St. Louis, but if he keeps playing that way, his circus trip should be a successful one. MVP of the trip? We’ll have to see about that.                                                  

Every Good Circus Has A Side Show

As to your point about this trip having some added benefits off the ice, I one hundred percent agree. It has always been a turning point for the team, especially in years when there has been a lot of roster turnover. This year should be no different.

For starters, the team is forced to spend considerably more time getting to know each other, which is only going to help them form a stronger bond on the ice. Especially for the quieter guys like Dano, and to an extent Panarin (though I think he will be quite chatty once he’s more comfortable with the language). The good news is that everyone speaks Mario Kart! The downside for the new guys, if they choose to look at it that way is that more than one of them is likely to fall victim to one of Andrew Shaw’s pranks.

A word of advice to Shaw, though. It is always the quiet ones that surprise you with their retribution.

Vegas Vacation?

Rick, I know you and I have been tweeting about Patrick Kane going streaking (goals people), but Vegas, Oh Boy.

For some reason, the idea of Panarin in Vegas scares me. So, the answer to your question is yes, I think he’s going to enjoy it. I’m betting a lot of interesting pictures will be popping up on Twitter from Panarin, and Viktor Tikhonov. Here’s hoping the boys have a relatively tame visit should they make an appearance in Sin City.

Speaking of Tikhonov, next week, we will be taking a more in depth look at the second leg of the Blackhawks circus trip. The Hawks will face two big, physical teams, so we’ll definitely be taking a look at players who might slot in to counteract the Ducks, and Kings.

Feel free to sound off with your thoughts in the comments below, or @HawksStrength or @Louckske on Twitter.