When the Chicago Blackhawks hit the ice on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche, they will be doing more than just taking on a Central Division rival. They will also be kicking off their seven game circus trip, a journey that will not only take them through cities all over the Western Conference, but will also expose them to numerous styles of play that will test them in a slew of ways.
For instance, the Hawks will face a couple of teams that will be looking to prove themselves against the champs. The Avalanche have been struggling lately, but the team plays with a huge chip on its shoulder thanks to new head coach Patrick Roy, and their hot start to the season is proof that the right motivation can make a team full of young and talented players shine.
The Oilers fit into that camp as well, with their slew of lottery picks looking to silence critics who don’t think they can hang with the NHL’s best. Taylor Hall is as dangerous a winger as there is in the NHL, and the team might get a boost from newly recalled goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov in net.
In addition to the high-flying young squads in the West, the Hawks will face a couple of established contenders as well. Armed with the league’s best penalty killing unit, the Vancouver Canucks are averaging 32.6 shots per game, and are more than capable of keeping up with the quick transition game that is a hallmark of the Hawks’ strategy.
The Hawks will also have to travel to the desert to face the Phoenix Coyotes in the last game of the trip, and that will be a really tough one to win. Even with their fans likely packing Jobing.com Arena, the Hawks will still be facing a team seemingly energized by their new ownership, as the Coyotes have an impressive 9-0-1 record at home. They also have one of the league’s best power play units thanks to point machines on the blue line like Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Finally, the Hawks will have to deal with a couple of divisional games against opponents looking for revenge for earlier defeats. The Winnipeg Jets have been drilled by the Blackhawks in both of their meetings this season, and it will surely be a raucous scene at MTS Centre later this week when the Hawks make their final trip up to Manitoba this season.
The Dallas Stars will also have vengeance on their minds as they play the Hawks in what will be a series of three games in 12 days against the defending Stanley Cup champions. In the teams’ first meeting of the season, the Hawks beat up on the Stars in a 5-2 laugher in the Lone Star State, and the building was full of raucous Blackhawks fans. Tyler Seguin and company aren’t going to want that to happen again.
This seven game trip may not have the pizzazz of previous western trips for the Hawks, as they usually face teams like the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks on their circus trip, but there are still plenty of interesting and challenging games ahead of the team as they try to hold onto their top spot in the Central Division standings.