|If you put a lot of stock in past history, the Blackhawks' season opener on October 5 at Nashville could go a long way in determining Chicago's playoff aspirations. |
In the Hawks' last three playoff appearances (2002, 1997, 1996), they opened the season on the road with victories. Another key element was posting a winning record at home, which occurred in 1995-96 and 2001-02. And although that wasn't the case in 1996-97, the Hawks had a winning mark on the road in that campaign.
Chicago head coach Trent Yawney knows the importance of defending home ice and playing at least .500 on the road in order to have a good shot at making the playoffs. Unlike last season's schedule where there was a preponderance of road games in the early going, October has an even split of six contests at the United Center and six on the road.
While the longest road trip is seven games in February, the Hawks will have their second longest streak of consecutive home games ever, six, between March 21 and April 1. Chicago also played six straight at the United Center in March 1997. You have to go back to November 1969 at the old Chicago Stadium to find a record of seven consecutive home games. That extended homestand included a 10-game unbeaten streak with eight victories and two ties.
Once again the Hawks will have 17 sets of back-to-back games. Last year, Chicago was 7-7-3 in those openers and 4-10-3 in the second games. The schedule this season includes five back-to-backs on the road; eight sets opening on the road with the second game at home, and four sets beginning at the United Center and concluding at the opposition's arena.
Now that the players and coaches have a full season under their belts with the rules and equipment changes, and hopefully a better understanding of how the referees are officiating, the Hawks should cut down on the penalties that hurt them at the start last year.
Special teams will again be of utmost importance, and Yawney knows the power play must improve while he is hopeful that the penalty killers can maintain their ranking in the top-third of the league. Penalty kill coach Denis Savard will move to running the power play this year with new assistant Mark Hardy running the PK.
Hawk fans will see all but the New York Rangers of the NHL's Original Six with Montreal playing at the UC in October. Toronto and Boston will visi in December while Central Division rival Detroit will make four appearances beginning in November.
Also, the schedule includes 23 of the 41 home games on the weekend (Friday-Sunday) with six of the Sunday matches in the afternoon.
Let's hope that an opening game victory at Nashville on October 5 will lead to a repeat of recent history for the Hawks to return to the playoffs. Oh, don't forget the home opener on October 7 at the United Center against Columbus!
Harvey Wittenberg served as the Blackhawks' Public Address Announcer from 1961 to 2001 and is currently a contributor to chicagoblackhawks.com. Buy Harvey's book -- Tales from the Chicago Blackhawks.