Back in the comfortable confines of the United Center on Tuesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks will play their first home game since November 17th when they battle their divisional rival the Dallas Stars.
Before they drop the puck on home ice for the first time in over two weeks, it’s worth pointing out that the Hawks are coming off of the most successful circus trip that they have ever had. Over the course of the seven games that they were away from the UC, the Hawks racked up a 6-1 record, including six consecutive victories to wrap up their voyage.
They outscored their opponents by a total of 23-15 over the seven games, and picked up several victories over potential playoff teams, including the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes.
To achieve that kind of success, it’s clear that there has to be a big collective effort from everyone in the lineup, and that’s exactly what the Hawks got. Whether it was the tremendous goaltending by Antti Raanta in his two starts on the trip, or the job Marian Hossa did as he returned to the team following his departure to take care of personal issues in Chicago, the Hawks got contributions from all corners on this trip, and it once again illustrated just how deep the squad is.
Of course, just leaving an editorial column with the conclusion that “everyone is a winner” is sure to draw a chorus of boos and “WHY DON’T WE JUST GIVE ALL OF THEM RIBBONS” jeers, so instead, we’ll try to determine who the Hawks’ MVP of the circus trip was. We’ll nominate three players, give our recommendation, and then we’ll take your suggestions/votes in the comment section below.
And here are your nominees:
Patrick Kane (5 G, 4 A)
A guy that scores nine points in seven games is going to stand out quite a bit, but it’s the way that Kane racked up those points that really stood out over the course of the trip.
Two of his goals came on really remarkable plays by the now 25-year old forward. The first one came in the waning seconds of the team’s game against the Calgary Flames, when Kane collected a rebound in front of Reto Berra, and he in one fluid motion swept a backhanded shot into the net with just 18 seconds left to give the Hawks a shocking victory.
The other tally came in the first period against the Phoenix Coyotes, where Kane was part of a collective effort to score a power play tally. On the play, Kane won a puck battle, and after the puck worked its way back to Hossa at the point, Kane got to the net and was able to deflect the shot past Smith with a great bit of hand eye coordination to give the Blackhawks a lead.
Those two plays encompassed a good cross-section of Kane’s abilities. He is able to make some really spectacular plays, is also able to make them at crucial times, and also is willing to work hard to make his own luck.
Ben Smith (1 G, 2 A)
No, three points in eight games isn’t exactly the best way to earn a nomination for an MVP award, but Smith’s overall play on the circus trip not only proved that he is really embracing his role as a fourth line forward, but it also showed that he is deserving of a roster spot even when the team gets Mike Kostka and Bryan Bickell back from injury.
Smith had some great moments offensively for the Hawks, including his chip-and-chase against the Winnipeg Jets that resulted in a late goal for the youngster, as he tapped in a rebound off the stick of Kris Versteeg to put Chicago up 5-3. He also made a great play in the shootout against the Stars when he surprised Kari Lehtonen with an excellent snap shot past his glove to finish off Dallas in a 2-1 victory.
He also was great on the defensive side of things too, leading an aggressive forecheck against the Coyotes that ended up carrying over to the rest of the team in the winning effort.
With his two-way ability and willingness to work hard for the puck, Smith is a perfect guy for the fourth line for the Hawks, and he has made a big impression on many scribes in the city.
Jonathan Toews (2 G, 4 A)
The Hawks’ captain has been a huge force for a top line that has been one of the best in the NHL, teaming up with Hossa and Patrick Sharp to form a potent trio that has led the Blackhawks into becoming arguably the best offense in the league.
Toews had a couple of good games on the circus trip, but his best one definitely came against the Jets. In that game, Toews made a fantastic spin move to get around Keaton Ellerby, and then followed that up with a great top-shelf shot against Ondrej Pavelec to put the Blackhawks ahead.
Later in the game, Toews ended up with two third period assists to finish the game off for Chicago. He put a perfect saucer pass on the stick of Hossa on a 2-on-1 rush, and Hossa flipped it over Pavelec to put Chicago up 4-3. Late in the contest, Toews struck again as he opted to pass to Sharp instead of keeping the puck for himself, and Sharp put the puck into the empty net to give the Hawks their ultimate 6-3 victory.
In addition to his unselfishness, the game showed that Toews is able to contribute on offense whether he is creating the offense or helping others to do so, and the captain certainly made a big impression on fans with his performance on the trip.
And Our Winner Is….
Despite the overall quality of play by Smith and Toews’ spectacular evening against the Jets, Kane was the team’s best player over the past seven games. His offensive prowess has been on full display the whole season, but he was as big a reason as any why the Hawks have been so successful lately, and he is well-deserving of the distinction of being the MVP of this road trip.
What do you think, Hawks fans? Did we get it right with the selection of Kane, or is there another player that deserves the honors more?