Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks: 6 Souvenirs from the Circus Trip

By Tim Lively

November 29, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Brad Richards (91) is congratulated after he scores a goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the second period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to our beloved Chicago Blackhawks embarking on their annual six-game Circus Trip away from Chi-Town, I wrote an article highlighting the importance of the Hawks doing well during these away games in terms of buildings team confidence, overcoming adversity, and learning to sustain success.

Well, needless to say, after the Blackhawks posted a 5-1 record, which was finished with a three game winning streak, I’m feeling pretty darn good about our boys in red, white, and black. As we all know, with any road trip, souvenirs are picked up along the way. Here are six souvenirs the Hawks accumulated during the Circus Trip:

#6 – No Sharpie, No Problem

As a core player and key contributor, the loss of Patrick Sharp to injury is certainly a blow to the Blackhawks offense, but after the way the Hawks played during the Circus Trip, you’d never guess it. With the absence of Sharpie in the line-up the Blackhawks stepped up as a team. Naturally star players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook amped up their game, but the Hawks also got lower line players like Andrew Shaw, Daniel Carcillo and Bryan Bickell finding their way onto the score sheet in multiple games during the Circus Trip. All I have to say is that’s an extremely promising sign when an entire team, not just one or two players, rallies to compensate for the loss of a key teammate to injury. This is a characteristic of a championship squad, period.

#5 – 2010 Kris Versteeg is Back Baby!

If there were still whispers to trade Kris Vesteeg in Chicago, they’ve been all but silenced after the Circus Trip. Steeger complimented his already strong start to the season with 2 goals and 5 assists during the Circus Trip and is absolutely thriving on the second line with Patrick Kane and Brad Richards. Hawks fans have been waiting for the vintage 2010 Versteeg for over a year now, and well, it looks like he’s back! In addition to his increased production this year, you have to be encouraged by Versteeg’s ability to overcome a lingering injury and setback to his career. This type of perseverance is an invaluable quality for any player to have, and will certainly help the Blackhawks further down the road, when they will likely be relying on Versteeg to play a more integral role.

#4 – Third Line Defense Still Has Question Marks

The loss of Trevor van Riemsdyk to long-term injury was a significant blow to the Blackhawks considering how strong the rookie’s play had been, and it was anyone’s guess as to how the Hawks would compensate for the loss on their third line defense. To the joy of many Hawks fans, promising prospect Adam Clendening got called up from the Rockford Icehogs for his NHL debut, and what a debut it was, as he tallied his first NHL goal in his first NHL game against the Calgary Flames during the Circus Trip. However, despite such a strong start, Clendening failed to win Coach Joel Quenneville completely over and was replaced in the lineup by lackluster David Rundblad for the last two games of the Circus Trip. One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked however is that Michal Rozsival, a defenseman that split time with Sheldon Brookbank the previous two years, started all six games on the Circus Trip. Say what you will about Rozsival, but for the 36-year-old blue liner, this is not a sustainable pace. It will take some creativity, but the Blackhawks need to find a reliable long-term solution for their defensive third string going forward.

Nov 23, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford (50) stands during national anthem before the start of the first period against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

#3 – Corey Crawford Looks Elite

With the Blackhawks’ defense not quite whole, other players had to step it up, and hands down, one of those players was Corey Crawford. The days of Crawford being better known for not getting any respect than his actual accomplishments on the ice may be numbered after his performance during the Circus Trip. Crow looked absolutely fantastic against some the league’s hottest offenses. In four out of six games, Crawford posted save percentages over 93! Stats aside, the eye test alone tells you Crawford looks more comfortable between the pipes than ever before. Crawford continues to build his case for being in the same discussion as other elite goalies in the league, and here’s hoping it happens. I just hope, unlike last year, Crawford gets the rest he needs during the regular season so he can be fresh for the playoffs. It’s certainly hard to put Crow on the bench when he’s been playing so lights out, but luckily, unlike last year, the Hawks have seen they have two viable backups in Antti Raanta and Scott Darling.

#2 – Brad Richards Has Still Got It

The Blackhawks’ biggest offseason acquisition has certainly gone through a bit of a rollercoaster debut in Chicago. When Brad Richards was first brought on, he was toted as being the long sought after second line center. However it seemed like such a role was pie-in-the-sky idealism at the start of the season when he was quickly demoted to the lower lines. Many Hawks fans believed that Richards’ best days were well behind him, but then he found the support he needed, in Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg. With two flashy forwards on his flanks, Richards has hit his stride as a Blackhawk, and this was glaringly evident during the Circus Trip, as he notched three goals and two assists. This should really come as no surprise. Brad Richards’ steadfast play and veteran vision is the perfect compliment to Kane and Versteeg’s shake-n-bake style, and helps prevent the wingers from getting ahead of themselves during offensive drives, as can be their tendency at times. Richards’ heyday may be behind him, but he’s showing everyone he’s not done writing his legacy.

#1 – The Hawks Got Their Groove Back

The aforementioned aside, this was why the Circus Trip was so important for the Blackhawks. Winning games in the NHL is hard, which is why winning 5 out of 6 games away from your home ice is an unprecedented accomplishment. The Circus Trip presented the Hawks with a monumental amount of adversity to overcome, and they stood and delivered beautifully. After a lackluster start to the season, this six game hiatus from Chicago has given us a clear view as to what kind of team the Blackhawks truly are, and it’s beyond promising. The Circus Trip also demonstrated to everyone in the Hawks locker room what they can accomplish as a team. This insight will carry them a very long way, and just how far that is will be up to the Blackhawks.