By Adam Hess
The Chicago Blackhawks are about to embark on their annual November Circus Trip, a two-week, six-game road trip through most of the Pacific Division. They head to Canada this week to challenge the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks, and then they will spend next week in California taking on the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings.
Heading into this trip, the Blackhawks currently find themselves on the very outskirt of the Western Conference playoff race, sitting fifth in the Central Division and in the second wild card position. They’re just two points behind both Nashville and Minnesota, but both of those teams have played two less games than Chicago. Not exactly an encouraging position for the ‘Hawks to be in going into a long, grueling road trip.
Despite how early we still are in the regular season, the Circus Trip is without a doubt a pivotal stretch in the Blackhawks season, and could potentially end up making or breaking their playoff hopes.
Fortunately, though, the forthcoming opponents don’t represent overly daunting tasks for the Blackhawks. The Oilers, Flames, Ducks, and Sharks are the bottom four teams in the seven team Pacific Division, and all of those teams are below the Blackhawks in terms of points. Edmonton and Calgary are two of the three worst teams in the NHL.
The Blackhawks have also already defeated four of their Circus Trip opponents this season in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Calgary, and Edmonton. All of those wins came at the United Center, but they still grant the Blackhawks a level of confidence as they head into their opponents barns. They have yet to take on Vancouver or San Jose this year.
However, things don’t always go as planned on the Circus Trip. The Blackhawks have often been surprised by the Oilers for example, even giving up eight goals in a game at Rexall Place a few years ago. And with four of the games coming on back-to-backs, fatigue could plague the team.
Still, the Blackhawks are in a good place as they head into this Circus Trip. They have won three of their last four games, including two straight. They just got Duncan Keith back from injury. They’re starting to click offensively and defensively. So there are plenty of reasons for the Blackhawks and their fans to have confidence as this trip gets underway.
“I did my rehab and then spent a lot of time hanging out and playing with my son, Colton,” Keith told chicagoblackhawks.com. “That was fun. It wasn’t so much that I was frustrated, because I was hurt. I had no choice but to get it fixed. I watched the games, and that gives you another perspective. But I’m glad to be back.”
The 2014 Norris Trophy winner had surgery on Oct. 20 to repair a torn meniscus.
“Like I said the other day, it’s not an amputation,” he said. “I don’t remember exactly when I hurt it. It was in the Cup Final against Tampa, either in Game 3 or 4 here. I think I might have been hit, and then a guy fell on me. I thought it was OK during the summer, but then when I started playing again and skating hard, it acted up.”
Obviously, we will not know the impact of the Circus Trip’s outcomes immediately, but if the ‘Hawks drop four of the six games and miss the playoffs by two or three points, we’ll know where those potential points were lost. Let’s just hope they can find a way to win four, instead.