As the Blackhawks embark on their fourteenth season at the United Center and their eighty-first regular-season NHL campaign, excitement is building on the heels of their 88 points last season, their largest point total since 2001-02. The team and fans are champing at the bit waiting for the first puck to drop! Blackhawks fans and Coach Denis Savard hope that his team can build on the success they had last season, falling just 3 points short of a playoff berth.
|With his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season behind him, Patrick Kane looks for bigger things, like a playoff berth, in the 2008-09 NHL season. |
Opening on the road in back-to-back situations, against two strong Eastern Conference contenders in the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, will give fans an early indication of their team’s strength before the Hawks begin their home slate October 13. The Hawks’ last winning mark away from the U.C. was in 1996-97 (18-14). That year, despite playing better on enemy ice, the Hawks were still only 16-21 at home. You have to go back to 1995-96, when the Hawks finished second in the division with 94 points, for successful records at home and the road.
Once again, special teams will play a key part in advancing to post-season play. With Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ their rookie seasons under their belts, plus Patrick Sharp coming off a career-high 36 goals, Savard should feel confident that experience, a healthy Martin Havlat, and the addition of All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell will enhance their play.
The Hawks need to move into the upper half of the NHL’s powerplay statistics, both offensive and defensive, while continuing their edge in short-handed scoring (17 goals), only one behind Ottawa. The emergence of Dustin Byfuglien on the power play (7 powerplay goals) and the tireless work by defenseman Duncan Keith (+30 plus/minus in ’07-08) should improve the special team efforts.
This year’s schedule offers a challenge for the Hawks. October is fairly even with six home games and four on the road. November is a lot rougher, with five straight home games followed by six in a row in enemy territory.
The New Year kicks off with the NHL Winter Classic 2009 against arch-rival and defending Stanley Cup champ Detroit. It’s officially a home game, but this outdoor meeting should be seen as being played on neutral ice (except the Hawks have the right to make the last switch in players).
The Hawks’ biggest challenge will come between January 28 and February 13, when the team will have a season-high eight straight road games.
While Julius Caesar may have been warned of the “Ides of March,” the Hawks will have best opportunity for a strong push during the month, with eleven games on home ice and only four on the road.
April winds down the regular-season schedule with clashes against division rivals. This includes back-to-back games in Nashville and against Columbus. The Hawks conclude play with back-to-back games against the Red Wings April 11 in the Motor City and April 12 at home.
There’s no doubt the Hawks have a lot more depth. GM Dale Tallon and his staff have done a great job of drafting new talent and I’m sure they won't rest until they bring the Cup back to Chicago. The addition of Scotty Bowman, the all-time winningest NHL coach, as a senior advisor was an added coup!
Savard and his staff know the job of achieving success this season won't be easy, but they feel confident they can find the right blend of team chemistry - thanks largely to the efforts of Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough in bringing pride back to the Blackhawks.
Ever since July’s successful Blackhawks Convention, I, along with thousands of Chicago fans, can't wait for this season. As Denis Savard said then, “I wish we could drop the puck now!”