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Hawks hope November brings health, consistency

by Sergei J. Feldman
After one month of regular-season hockey, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks find themselves sitting atop the Western Conference's Central Division and tied for the second-most points in the National Hockey League.

Left wing Patrick Sharp leads the NHL with 10 goals and is tied for third in points with 15.

On the surface, it looks like all is well in the Windy City. However, a look deeper shows something else.

The Blackhawks have played more games than any other team, so their 7-5-1 record diminishes the grand total of 15 points. Perhaps the grind that was October has contributed to Chicago's average start.

"We've had a lot of games, been pretty busy," forward Patrick Kane said. "Overall, I think we probably had a little bit of a slow start to the season, but it seems like we've been playing a little bit better as of late."

The Hawks closed October with two wins in their last three games, which could be the spark the team needs. Expectations are high in Chicago, especially when the "defending champs" label always hovers over the team.

"You have to kind of walk that line between urgency and having patience," captain Jonathan Toews said. "We want to address problems right away and improve as quick as we can as a team.

"We know that not everything's going to happen over night, so we have to be patient for good things to happen."

Coach Joel Quenneville had his take.

"We've been OK, but we're looking for more," he said. "We should be further along with our record. We've had some games where we've left some points on the table, for sure.

"We've had some really good in-game stretches and some tough stretches in games, as well."

Those tough stretches have extended off the ice, as injuries have plagued the Blackhawks for most of the season's early goings.

Heading into Monday's game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NHLN-CA), top forward Marian Hossa -- who jumped off to a great start to the season -- finds himself sidelined for a couple of weeks with an upper-body injury, while Dave Bolland battles a rib injury.

But with the bad comes the good.

Gifted offensive defenseman Brian Campbell -- who hasn't played this season after spraining his knee in a preseason game Oct. 1 -- is expected to make his debut Monday.

"It'll be great," Toews said of Campbell's return. "I think we did a great job playing without some of our best players, but that's part of the game. It's always nice when you get them back in -- an added boost."

Kane echoed similar sentiments.

"It's huge for our team," he said. "He's an unbelievable defenseman. He can make plays that not a lot of players can. To have him back in the lineup, we're going to be excited to get the puck from him. He usually gives it to us in pretty good places."

Kane, specifically, could use some of those passes in good places to get the puck behind opposing netminders.

"I think I can be better," he said of his play after one month, which saw him finish with 11 points but a minus-7 rating. "I played pretty good the last couple of games, but, overall, I’m still trying to find my top 'A' game that I was at for most of last season.

"Once I get there, hopefully I can stay there."

The same, incidentally, applies to the team as a whole.

Players and coaches believed Saturday's 3-1 win in Minnesota was their best effort of the seasons. The goal is to see a carryover effect.

"The biggest thing for us is, once we get hot, we have to stay on a roll," Kane said. "I think if we stay confident and get on a roll, and stay healthy for the most part, we should be a pretty successful team."

For the Blackhawks' sake, hopefully as successful as last season.
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