With an extremely busy March month starting tonight, the Chicago Blackhawks must utilize the next six days to the fullest of their potential
March is going to be a really busy month for many NHL teams, the Chicago Blackhawks included. Chicago has participated in 63 games this season, a mark that 19 other teams have either matched or not yet reached.
As such, these teams will all be needing to play on what’s essentially an every-other-night basis to closer the regular season. The Blackhawks have three pairs of back-to-back games remaining and no more than one day off at a time starting March 9.
Tonight opens the first of those back-to-backs, as the New York Islanders visit the United Center and the Blackhawks follow that with a trip to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
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But after that, the Blackhawks have a four-day break. It’s their final extended stretch of off time this regular season. And as such, the Blackhawks really need to take advantage of that time.
Winning while banged up
The Blackhawks could roll into that off time, starting Sunday, on a seven-game win streak. No one likes to see a hot team put on an extensive break, but even if the Blackhawks do win their next two games, the four-day break couldn’t come at a better time.
The Blackhawks are not a healthy bunch right now. While today’s morning skate suggested the Blackhawks might be better off this weekend than they had originally imagined, things are far from perfect.
Artem Anisimov was dealing with a lower-body injury after Wednesday’s win over Pittsburgh, while Artemi Panarin had an upper-body injury. Both were on the ice for today’s morning skate, but Anisimov reportedly isn’t playing tonight despite this.
Nick Schmaltz is sick, and he didn’t make the bell for today’s morning skate. It doesn’t sound like he’ll play tonight, either, and he’d definitely like more time to recuperate.
Niklas Hjalmarsson remains out with a mysterious upper-body injury, while Johnny Oduya is also staying out. Though that has more to do with getting Michal Rozsival playing time to make him eligible for the expansion draft, Oduya has also been bugged by an ankle injury of late.
On top of that, goaltender Scott Darling suddenly has an upper-body injury, necessitating the call-up of Jeff Glass from the AHL.
At this rate, I’d be fearful Darling’s “injury” is the mumps, which have made their return to the league in recent weeks.
Da Windy City
All of these guys are dealing with something being noted in the media. This isn’t even including nicks and bruises other guys are dealing with as well. Heading into the home stretch of the regular season, it’s critical to get guys as healthy as possible.
We all know hockey players will work through anything in the postseason, so it’s important to get to a spot where they aren’t playing through much when the playoffs start. The upcoming four-day break will be really important in the Blackhawks’ effort to achieve that.
While the Blackhawks have a highly veteran team, they also have some youngsters who are making their first full-season NHL run. The four-day break will be a perfect point to get them prepared for the next stage of the NHL season.
It might seem strange to suggest these guys need some time for mental preparation, considering they had a bye week last month. But this upcoming point in the season — very few off days while pushing for a division title — is far different from any other point in the season to date.
Youngsters will likely use their down time to get refocused on the ultimate goal and realize, while the regular season is nearly over, the serious grind is just beginning.
Mental preparation is important for veterans as well, though. It can be really tough for guys to grind through an 82-game season. Players handle the stretch in different ways. Those upcoming four days off could be just what some of the stalwarts need, not even from a physical recovery standpoint.
So while Blackhawks fans will be sad their favorite team is off the air for four days, the team’s final stretch of down time this regular season is extremely important. After that, the Blackhawks will have 17 games in the following 30 days.