|It's a whole New Ice Age as far as the Blackhawks are concerned for 2005-06. |
With an abundance of new NHL rules, a new coach and a roster that includes 14 players in their first season with the Hawks, Chicago is not looking to "just" make the playoffs this season. They want to contend for the elusive Stanley Cup.
Despite all the "new" things, Hawk Coach Trent Yawney knows that the formula to be successful hasn't really changed that much. Speed and special teams will be keys to winning, along with hard work. It will also be vital to regain home ice dominance at the United Center. Starting their 11th campaign at the UC, the Hawks have registered five winning and five losing seasons on home ice, while playing above .500 on the road on only three occasions.
Winning at home at least two-thirds of the time and playing no worse than even on the road usually can guarantee you no less than a home-ice edge going into the playoffs. The Hawks tied for the best home record in 2001-02 with 28 wins and six ties for 62 points.
General Manager Dale Tallon landed Stanley Cup winner and All-Star goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, along with former Tampa Bay teammate Jassen Cullimore and All-Star defenseman Adrian Aucoin, to enhance the Blackhawks chances for success.
Yawney knows that team chemistry in getting the Hawks off to a good start will go a long way to determine the fate of the season. The new salary cap has created a lot of parity, but in hockey everything really starts with strong goaltending.
The blend of free agents, promising rookies and returning veterans plus the competition during the preseason has demonstrated that for the first time in a while, the Hawks have a lot more depth and options in the present and for the future.
With the fact that there will be no more ties during the regular season, holding the lead going into the third period and winning those one goal games will be the big difference. The shootouts if games are tied after the five minute overtime, plus the legalization of two line passes, should provide more offense and excitement for hockey fans while putting more pressure on the goalies.
I know Yawney is proud of his record guiding the Hawks' Norfolk farm team to five straight playoff appearances and two berths in the AHL semi-finals. I know he is also not about to rest on those laurels until he gets Chicago back into the Stanley Cup finals!