Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
By Chris Boden
Since our planet's much-more-brilliant minds are still working on perfecting the Time Machine, there's unfortunately no way we can fast-forward a few months to find out what impact the Circus Trip will have had on the Blackhawks' season. There are definite signs to point to if they maintain a higher level of consistency and take off from here.
It's only two games, and just the second time in six-and-a-half weeks they've put back-to-back wins together. They also beat a couple of slumping teams missing a key player or two. Yet, there was reason to like the fact there was no letdown at the end of a long trip, finishing on consecutive nights. In Anaheim, when they controlled most of the first period, they didn't let a late power play goal throw them off their game. As much as Nick Boynton may have disappointed a couple of nights earlier with turnovers in San Jose, you had to love him once again coming to a teammate's defense. Same goes for Jonathan Toews Saturday night, captain-versus-captain, going after Dustin Brown as the Kings continued targeting linemate Viktor Stalberg all game. Maybe there is something about that road trip bonding.
In the final five minutes of the trip, they were forced to dig real deep, and while they couldn't kill a 5-on-3, they burned off the second penalty in what was an encouraging night for a PK which has still allowed seven goals the last five games and has sunk towards the bottom of the NHL. The power play will also need a little sprucing up after connecting just twice on the entire trip. The last couple of wins overcame those two trends with a willingness to forecheck, crash the net and the defense doing a better job of jumping on rebounds around their house.
In my last entry, I wrote about the best players being the best players. While there are still some individual head-scratchers along the way, those victories over the Ducks and Kings had a scoresheet filled with returning Cup-winners. Patrick Sharp? Yeah, I guess it was good Stan Bowman deemed him an untouchable. I wonder if he comes home still the hotel room wrestling champ, too.
Then there's Corey Crawford. Joel Quenneville leans toward going with a good thing when it's working, so it's easy to imagine him sticking with the Big 5-0, who's gone a big 4-0 in his last four starts. The only three shots that've gotten past him in his last three starts have been on the opponent's power play.
Marty Turco shouldn't be labeled as a scapegoat by any means. He'll still get a ton of time. It just so happens that after opening the trip with his first Hawks shutout, the games in Calgary and San Jose weren't his sharpest nights, compounded by the fact everyone around him played poorly, as well. As we discussed with Ed Olczyk during the second intermission Saturday night, teams go through stretches where they just play better in front of one goalie over another. Niemi over Huet here last year. Niittymaki over Niemi now in San Jose. Earlier in the season, Johnson over Fleury in Pittsburgh. Sure, the goalie has something to do with inspiring that confidence. Some of Turco's first-month efforts saved his new team a handful of points. At this point, Crawford seems to bump up the feel-good factor. Turco's time will come around again. He's a great teammate but he's also more accomplished, experienced and psychologically stronger than Huet a year ago if this turns into a competition.
It would be a great time for this potential springboard to be real. They Hawks are also as healthy as they've been all season. Their place in the standings continues to get a big assist by the games they have in hand. Until the others catch up, the next item to check on the "to-do" list is making their home ice nasty again for visitors. Ten of their next 13 games are back in their barn. Check out the teams they face. All from the Western Conference. All jockeying for what counts come April. It starts Tuesday against a St. Louis team feeling the losses of Oshie, Perron and Polak. Better for the Hawks to keep adding to their point total and deny these other teams when they have the head-to-head opportunity before the schedule evens out and they're potentially passed.
Each season is a process that must unfold at its own pace. Some teams riding high the first month are learning it's a difficult pace to keep up. But still, when's that Time Machine supposed to be ready again?
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.