At the risk of being a grinch, this next month will tell us a whole lot more about the Blackhawks than this last one since they returned from the Circus Trip. Give them a well-deserved pat on the back for their impressive 8-1-1 record so far in December. But while we got two doses of the Islanders, and single servings of the Ducks, Flames and Canadiens, if you haven't noticed what lies ahead, you'll see what I mean. You, me Joel Quenneville, Stan Bowman and probably every player in that locker room will have a better grasp of exactly who they are when the calendar flips to February. That happens right after the opener of nine straight road games against their old buddies from Vancouver, which has gone 7-2-1 in its last 10. It might not be a bad idea to punch the clock again Monday by regaining momentum against worst-in-the-NHL Columbus, not looking ahead like we'll do right now:
> Wednesday: LOS ANGELES
1-0-1 under Darryl Sutter and facing desperation to get back in the playoff hunt or prepare for an unexpected, embarrassing miss.
> Friday: DETROIT
The Wings lurk just five points back, and get back to work with back-to-backs against Nashville & St. Louis
> Sunday: EDMONTON
Remember 9-2? A huge chance for revenge here with these Young Guns tasting some serious Humble Pie of late (3-8-1 in their last 12)
> Jan. 5th: @ Philadelphia
It's the FlyGuys first game since the Winter Classic HBO's cameras go away
> Jan. 6th: COLORADO
Like the Oilers, they're back down to earth after beating the Hawks in a shootout at the UC that improved their record to 6-2. But make sure those legs are ready. Their speed is dangerous.
> Jan. 8th: DETROIT
After not seeing them the first 37 games, I can hearf the chants now for a second time in 10 days? Will the Hawks still be 5 ahead? More? Less?
> Jan. 10th: @ Columbus
A "break"? A "breather"? As long as they don't think that way....
> Jan. 12th: MINNESOTA
Where will the Wild Things be at this point? They're still just three points behind the Hawks despite their current 0-4-2 slump. Will their ship be righted?
> Jan. 14th: @ Detroit
Oh. Them again?
> Jan. 15th: SAN JOSE
> Jan. 18th: BUFFALO
One of the disappointments of the East desperately needs Ryan Miller to be Ryan Miller again
> Jan. 20th: FLORIDA
Maybe the best line in hockey (in Kris Versteeg's & Brian Campbell's first game back) & maybe the biggest surprise in hockey, leading the Southeast. Big.
> Jan. 21st: @ Nashville
Which way will the Preds be streaking at this point?
> Jan. 24th: NASHVILLE
Never fun facing Trotzy's Troop twice in a row
> Jan. 31st: @ Vancouver
They have six days of rest to rev up for the start of the massive roadie. Where will the last two Western Conference champions stand at this point?