By Adam Hess
In the opening days of this season, the Blackhawks have seemed to struggle a bit to really get going. Sure, they handled the Islanders twice and were competent enough to not be the first team to fall to the tire fire that is Columbus on Saturday. There’s a lot of factors involved there, and one of the biggest may be the strange forward line compositions and the absence of Marko Dano. But I’m going to talk about that here.
Last week there were two nights of hockey that are not exactly going to stick around in my head for much longer. The Blackhawks teams that played in Philadelphia and DC on Wednesday and Thursday are not the Blackhawks that we’re going to see a lot this season, and that’s a very good thing. Every team has their off days and off road trips and this is one that we can deal with. We’re only six games into the season and those lost points can be made up later in the season.
I have a lot of trouble working up anything besides a slight frustration at those nights when you consider the state of things in the NHL so far. We have Vancouver and Arizona in second and third in the Pacific; we have Montreal who still hasn’t lost and Columbus who still hasn’t won. Hell, Toronto isn’t in last place, so you know something’s wack right now. We’re still at the point of the season where teams are on hot or cold streaks that are simply unsustainable (Hello, Sergei Bobrovski, and thanks for stopping by the United Center this weekend).
One also can’t put too much stock into the Blackhawks struggling against out-of-conference opponents. They have one of the strangest schedules in the NHL to open the season, playing their first eight games against Eastern Conference teams. They’re the only team in the NHL that, as of Tuesday, hasn’t played a conference opponent yet. While these are still games that count and you want to start strong, these are also teams that the Blackhawks aren’t very familiar with and will only see one more time all year. I’m going to forgive them if they struggle with getting amped up about those games.
The Blackhawks seem to always have some difficulty with out-of-conference opponents due to that unfamiliarity. I can’t speak from experience, but it’s gotta be somewhat difficult to really get up for those game when you don’t know the team very well and you know it’s one of only two times you’ll see them unless you meet them in the Cup Final.
Maybe this is sort of like spraying perfume on pile of garbage, but this has some validity as an explanation for why the ‘Hawks look a little lackluster so far. Line combinations have been bad for sure, and that is likely the biggest reason that things haven’t gone as planned. But as the Blackhawks start playing teams that they’re more familiar with and can prepare for better, those issues will start to figure themselves out a bit more.