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Chicago Blackhawks Have Golden Opportunity In Schedule

By Colin Likas
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Before the Chicago Blackhawks were stumped by the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, they were coming off a stretch of games against teams near, at or below the .500 mark. They got healthy by taking five of six games against such teams, defeating Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Buffalo and San Jose while also falling to the pesky Colorado Avalanche.

If you thought that portion of the Blackhawks’ schedule was tasty, though, what’s up next for the Blackhawks presents a golden opportunity to a team fighting for positioning in the cutthroat Central Division.

The Blackhawks conclude their holiday-shortened week with the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow. The Canes are one of the worst teams in the league by points, standing at 13-16-5 for 31 points, just two clear of league loser Columbus. And things also look pretty sweet after that, heading into the new calendar year.

The Blackhawks will travel to Arizona and Colorado to wrap up 2015, and those two teams sport records of 16-15-2 (34 points) and 17-17-1 (35 points), respectively. From there, they return to the United Center for a game against deceiving Ottawa. I say deceiving because they are not nearly as good as their 40 points would indicate, standing four points behind the Blackhawks with five fewer regulation or overtime losses. Riding a potent offense has worked for the Sens so far, but their defense and goaltending probably won’t hold up, in spite of Erik Karlsson.

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Then, it’s a quick one-game trip to slumping Pittsburgh, which has just 35 points, is struggling through a coaching change and is seeing Sidney Crosby post one of his worst offensive seasons in his time in the NHL. After that, four consecutive games at the Madhouse on Madison, with the first being the conclusion of a home-and-home with Pittsburgh. Then: Buffalo, Colorado and Nashville.

So we’re talking about eight games in which the Blackhawks should have no problem being favored at any betting establishment. And games in which they should pick up at least a point on the ice. Will they all turn out that way? Probably not, but the Blackhawks have shown in the past they’re capable of successful stretches like that.

This isn’t the same team from years past, but it’s starting to find its footing in certain areas. Marian Hossa will likely be back sooner rather than later, re-completing a first line that was seeing success as Teuvo Teravainen was getting more comfortable with Hossa and Jonathan Toews. The second line, despite occasional struggles from Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov, still clicks at a relatively high rate due to Patrick Kane‘s ridiculous run. The third and fourth lines, while not perfect, are meshing despite some youngsters having to fill the center spots. And the goaltending has left little to be desired, as Corey Crawford has carried this team through stretches.

The defense, of course, is still a question mark. But we’re getting closer and closer each day to a likely move or couple of moves by Stan Bowman to shore up the blue line. What exactly he will do is tough to say, and while the defensive unit is far from being nails at this point, it isn’t exactly useless either.

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So, can the Blackhawks roll off an eight-game points streak in this upcoming stretch against weak foes? I think it should be the goal. The biggest worries in that span of games are probably Colorado because of the trouble the Blackhawks have had with them over the past several seasons, and Nashville because, despite their offensive woes this season, it’s a team that seems to have Crow’s number. Still, there’s a great opportunity for anywhere from 12-16 points on the table in these next eight contests.

And that’s critical, because the Stars are showing no signs of slowing down, and the Blues are a quietly capable team that, despite a recent rough stretch, is one of only two to have double-digit wins at home and on the road (Dallas is the other). Minnesota still has 500 games in hand on everyone in the league (at least it feels that way), and the Preds could get their offensive situation straightened out with some timely roster adjustments. Or Pekka Rinne could just steal a month’s worth of games.

After this eight-game run, the Blackhawks’ schedule has a few more challenges, so it would behoove them to take advantage of this chance.

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