Blackhawks

Blackhawks must find road success again for annual Circus Trip

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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.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”