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One minute remaining: Schedule challenge

by Harvey Wittenberg / Chicago Blackhawks

While each NHL team has the same type of schedule—82 games with an equal amount at home and on the road—one major difference is how it breaks down.

This upcoming season, the Blackhawks will hope to get off to a strong start because the end of this season's schedule will be an "extra" challenge. Looking ahead, the last eight games will include six on the road and only two at the United Center. Right now it might not look that difficult, but beginning March 25, the Blackhawks will contest three in a row on the road against teams that made the playoffs—Florida, Eastern Conference finalist Tampa Bay and defending Cup-winner Pittsburgh.

While the next two after that are at home against teams that failed to make the postseason last year, both Columbus and Boston should be improved. After that, the Blackhawks will journey on the road to take on Colorado, and for the first time in club history, they will finish the regular schedule on the West Coast with games in Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Chicago has the same number of back-to-back games as they did last season (13), when they posted an overall mark of 15-9-2 in those games. The team boasted a 26-11-4 record on United Center ice and went 21-15-5 on the road, compared to the 2015 championship squad, which managed both 24 victories at home and away.

And for the fourth straight year, the Blackhawks will play outdoors, this time on Jan. 2 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

To take advantage of the schedule, the Blackhawks hope to draw strength in October, when they have nine games at home and three away; December, when they'll play nine at the UC and six on

the road; and January, with eight of 12 contests in Chicago.

The annual schedule challenge remains, however, with the long seven-game road trip in November and another six-game trip in February, plus the tough March/April finish.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville knows every game is important, and while last season's team recorded 12 straight wins, that streak will be difficult to match. Another key will be special teams, which will need improvement in the penalty killing area while maintaing the high degree of success the Blackhawks power play had last season. The team can also benefit from getting a few more road victories—no easy task in the NHL!

With a exciting schedule ahead, fans are eagerly awaiting the drop of the puck on Oct. 12 in the season-opening clash with archrival St. Louis.

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