California stretch redeems Circus Trip, but question marks remain for Blackhawks

By Adam Hess

Last week, I wrote about the rough start the Chicago Blackhawks annual Circus Trip was off to, and how there was potential for the Men of Four Feathers to turn the Trip around by performing better against the better teams they would be playing in California. They delivered, taking five of the six points available to them in the Golden State.

Wednesday night in San Jose, the Blackhawks flexed their muscles and simply outplayed the hell out the Sharks. Chicago was all over them from the very beginning, dominating their way to a 5-2 victory.

Friday night in Anaheim, the Blackhawks got off to a rough start, with the Ducks scoring just 1:02 after the opening puck drop. The game went back and forth, with the Ducks eventually taking a 2-0 lead, and the Blackhawks getting a lot of shots on goal but failing to score until there was just 1:41 left in the game. Then again, with 27 seconds left in regulation. And then again less than two minutes into overtime. It was an exciting finish, and a great win to see the Blackhawks pull out.

The Blackhawks then rounded out their six-game road trip on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Kings controlled most of the game, keeping the Blackhawks pinned in their defensive zone for most of the night. But the Blackhawks rode a strong first period performance and a few lucky breaks in the second period to a 2-0 lead after two periods. Then, in the third period, the Kings gave them the same treatment that they gave Anaheim the night before, scoring two goals in the third period and then winning in overtime.

The California stretch offered a lot of encouragement to Blackhawks fans that perhaps had some concerns after the opening stretch of the Circus Trip in Canada, including myself.

There were a lot of bright spots in California, including the impressive play of Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane continuing his point streak and breaking the record for the longest point streak by an American NHL player, and Duncan Keith continuing his impressive stretch of play since returning from injury.

Kane was named the NHL’s First Star of the Month on Tuesday, racking up 23 points in 13 November games. The winger is currently pacing the league with 37 points and is second with 14 goals.

“I’ve had some good runs in my career, it seems like. I think a couple years ago (2013) I had a 14-game streak and then missed a game then went on another 12-game streak,” Kane told CSN Chicago.

“Then me, [Brad Richards] and [Kris] Versteeg had some great times last year — for a couple months there I thought we were rolling pretty good. It’s fun when you’re rolling good and you want to keep it going. We’ve had fun together playing with that line with two Russians. Just looking to keep improving, getting better every day.”

However, there is still some cause for concern in regards to certain aspects of the Blackhawks game right now. They remain a mostly one-line team, with their first and third lines struggling to get much going in terms of offense, and the fourth line continuing its usual defensive role. Joel Quenneville kept Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa apart for much of the trip in California, but it’s probably time he reunites them in an effort to get that top line producing more.

Earning a 3-1-2 record and taking eight out of a possible 12 points on the Circus Trip is certainly something that Blackhawks fans can look on fondly. The Trip had a bit of a rough start, but the Blackhawks found their footing and were able to finish strong. These are good things.

It’s not all gravy in Chicago, though, at least not yet. There’s still plenty of work to be done for these Blackhawks, as they are starting to close in on the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Central Division. December will be an important month for these Blackhawks. Let’s hope they head into 2016 strong.

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