Blackhawks must find road success again for annual Circus Trip


Blackhawks must find road success again for annual Circus Trip

The Blackhawks were just that much happier following their victory against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.

They’re always glad to get that Central Division victory, especially against longtime rival St. Louis. But they were especially pleased because this triumph came on the road, where victories have been elusive thus far. And as the Blackhawks embark on their annual Circus Trip they’re looking to build off their game in St. Louis, which was just their second road victory of this season.  

“There was a sense of urgency, an importance to that game and we had to find a way to win on the road, too, which was important for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a very intense game, very competitive game and I liked our team game across the board.”

What was going wrong through those early road games? It could’ve been the newness the Blackhawks experienced: new teammates, new lines and new defensive pairs. They got off to bad starts in a lot of those games, went into catch-up mode, and that is rarely good.

[MORE: Trio of quick goals gives Blackhawks win over Flames]

“I just think we’ve started slow in some of those games on the road, putting ourselves behind the 8-ball a little,” Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “I don’t know if there’s a real reason for that, but we just have to come out focused and ready to play a quick and smart game on the road. The home teams sometimes come out with that big jump and press early with the fans and all that excitement there. So we have to be ready for that, come out playing smart and keep it really simple.”

Two other problems were injuries and one line doing all the scoring. Both issues have improved recently. Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival returned on Saturday and the others not named Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov have shown up on the score sheet.

Now the Blackhawks have to put it all together on the road. Here’s the good news for them about the Circus Trip: it’s usually been a successful trek. The Blackhawks went 5-1-0 on it last season, then won seven of their next eight after that. The team has always considered this trip a good bonding opportunity. Considering how many new faces are on the team this season, that time together may be especially beneficial.

“We spend time with each other, get to know each other. That’s been great,” Marcus Kruger said. “That trip is always something we look forward to and it’s good to come together as a team, practice, play and get to know each other a little bit better. We’ve done a good job in previous years with that. Hopefully we can keep that going.”

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Quenneville said the Blackhawks seem to find the right balance on the Circus Trip.

“There’s a lot of business to be attended to and a lot of good moments as well for the team bonding to exist. I think there are some fun moments for everybody but I certainly think your team gets a lot closer. And with the number of new guys we have, I think that’ll be a good experience for some,” Quenneville said. “And the best thing about it is, it’ll be a good test for us to find out how we can play consistent on the road in some real tough buildings.”

The Blackhawks used to be as reliable on the road as they were at home. That wasn’t there at the start but they’re about to go on what’s usually been a good trip for them. They need to find that again.

“We need to keep it a little more simple. I think in previous years we’ve been pretty good on the road and pretty comfortable there, too,” Kruger said. “We have to climb back to that.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?


Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: