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One Minute Remaining: Analyzing the 2011-12 schedule

by Harvey Wittenberg / Chicago Blackhawks

Coming off the 2010 Stanley Cup championship and the most successful season ever in terms of points by a Chicago team, the Blackhawks had a target on their sweaters during the 2010-11 season. Opponents wanted to use each game as a measuring stick against the champs, and this was especially true in the first two months when the Hawks lost seven games – five by one goal – on United Center ice. Considering the Blackhawks lost only eight home games the year before, there's no doubt that parity of the league and the salary cap has leveled the ice among the teams.

To kick off the 2011-12 season, the Blackhawks will play seven of their 11 contests in October at the United Center. Coach Joel Quenneville hopes his players can return to a similar mark to what they achieved at home in 2009-10 when they went 29-8-4, only one victory short of the team record of 30 wins set in 1970-71.

The Hawks have 17 sets of back-to-back games this seaosn, one less than last season, with nine in the first half and eight in the second half. Nine times the first game will be played on the road and the nightcap will be on home ice. Six are back-to-back on the road, and only two have the Hawks opening at the UC and playing the second game on the road. Last year, Chicago was stronger in the second games, going 12-6 while posting an 8-10 record in the openers.

The Hawks have a nine-game road trip – the longest since 1994 – from Jan. 31 to Feb. 18, with the first six games on the West Coast and the last three out east. The usual six-game western swing is Nov. 16-26. The longest consecutive home stand will include five games at the United Center, Dec. 21-Jan. 2.

The midway point of the schedule is the 41st game, Jan. 6 at the UC against Colorado. December and January are key months for winning on home ice with the Hawks having nine home games each month with only four road tilts.

At the same time, November and February provide the biggest road challenges as Chicago has only four games each month at the UC with 10 away. However, the Hawks have enjoyed success on the road going 20-12-9 last season; 23-14-4 (team record) in 2009-10 and 22-15-4 in 2008-09.

March has an even split of seven games each while the Hawks wind up April with a home-and-home with Minnesota and then travel to Detroit for the regular season finale.

The Hawks will host the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in their only meeting at the UC on Oct.15. Pointing to top playoff rival Vancouver, the Hawks will battle the Canucks at the UC on Nov. 6 and then clash on their West Coast swing on Nov. 16. The NHL's longest regular-season rivalry (715 games) will resume on Dec. 30 in Chicago against Detroit, the first of their six regular-season meetings in 2011-12.
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