Send in the Clowns: Blackhawks Circus Trip Preview

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Even though the Bulls, the Chicago Blackhawks’ usual co-tenant of the United Center, are currently locked out as NBA owners and players haggle over who will get a bigger piece of the money pie, the Hawks will still be kicked out of the arena for the next several weeks as the circus comes to town. The annual circus trip has always been a make or break proposition for the Hawks, and this year’s western trip is no exception.

With the team getting ready to drop the puck on the trip tonight in Vancouver against the Canucks, it seems appropriate to map out what we can expect from the squad out west, and to do that, we will provide a “word of the game”. And here we go:

11/16 at Vancouver 

Word of the Game: “Luo-No Go”

Unfortunately for fans of the Hawks who enjoy seeing Roberto Luongo’s dejected face after a defeat, the Canucks’ goaltender will not be in net for Vancouver tonight as he deals with an upper body injury. Perhaps more worrisome for the Hawks is that defenseman Brent Seabrook likely will not play, and head coach Joel Quenneville has said that he will give John Scott more ice time until Brent returns. Gulp.

On the plus side, the Hawks will have Dave Bolland back after he missed a couple of games. They will need him to be in top form, because they will be looking to avenge their November 6th defeat at the hands of Vancouver. In that game, the Canucks scored five power play goals, and they sent the Hawks into a tailspin from having one of the league’s best penalty killing units into one of the worst. Can they reverse that trend? We’ll have to wait to find out.

November 18th at Calgary 

Word of the Game: Offensive 

We really shouldn’t expect a very offense-oriented game when these two teams meet in the Saddledome, as the Flames will come into the contest as having one of the most scoring-challenged squads in the game. By comparison, the Hawks are currently the 4th best team in goals per game in the league, and have several players like Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane who are having very good starts in the scoring department.

The Flames, who already have one loss to the Hawks this year (a 4-1 defeat on Friday at the UC), aren’t showing any signs of turning around from that abysmal scoring start. They lost their third straight home game on Tuesday when they fell to Ottawa 3-1. The Senators happen to have the third worst defense in the entire NHL, so if the Flames can’t score against that group, then they may just send fans to the exits when they play the Hawks.

A year after his arrest, Khabibulin is having a resurgence

November 19th at Edmonton 

Word of the Game: Surprise! 

Sure, the Edmonton Oilers have surprised the hockey world with their impressive start to the campaign. After all, this is the team that has held the first overall pick in the Entry Draft for the last two years, and even though Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have bright futures ahead of them in this league, they aren’t the ones who are really carrying the load for the Oilers.

Leading the way for Edmonton with 10 goals and 17 points is winger Ryan Smyth. Acquired from the Kings, Smyth has been playing over 20 minutes a game and is one of the few real bright spots on the offensive side of the puck for the Oilers. By contrast, their defense is third best in the NHL in goals allowed per game, and that’s thanks in large part to a 38-year old goaltender who may look familiar to Hawks fans.

Nikolai Khabibulin has a sparkling 7-2-2 record this season, and with his 1.52 GAA and .945% save percentage, he is an early-season contender for the Vezina. Can the Hawks overcome their former netminder and keep the Oilers’ young guns off the board? They were able to Sunday in Chicago, but it’s a completely different ballgame at Rexall Place this year.

November 23rd at San Jose 

Word of the Game: Underacheiving

It’s hard to believe that after how they’ve played the last several regular seasons that the Sharks would be coming out of the gate slow, but that’s exactly what they are doing this year. They have been very inconsistent on both ends of the ice, and Antti Niemi has yet to show the form that he displayed so frequently for both them and the Blackhawks over the last few years. Couple that with the fact that division-mates Phoenix and Dallas are off to good starts, and you have the recipe for some worry for a team that many considered a preseason favorite for the Stanley Cup.

That being said, the Sharks always play the Blackhawks tough, and you can expect a physical contest next Wednesday. Of course, the Hawks have made mincemeat of the Sharks before on the Circus Trip (a drubbing in 2009 in the Blackhawk debut of Marian Hossa), but this year should be much more competitive.

November 25th at Anaheim

Word of the Game: Tryptophan

In what has been a stumbling block for them before, the Hawks will once again play on the day after Thanksgiving in Anaheim against a Ducks team that is looking to right the ship. The Ducks are currently in the cellar of the Pacific Division after a weak start, led by the league’s worst offense (despite having MVP Corey Perry and stalwarts like Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf) and one of the league’s lesser defenses.

Despite all of that, the Hawks have to be careful not to take this game for granted, as they have seen in games against Carolina and St. Louis. Maximum effort is a must to keep Anaheim at bay, and starting goaltender Jonas Hiller can be very frustrating to the opposition when he is on his game. The Hawks will need to get plenty of traffic in front of him, and if they can play even solid defense, they should be just fine.

November 26th at Los Angeles

Word of the Game: Nightcap

The Hawks will get off to a 9:30pm start against the Kings at Staples Center next Saturday, but that isn’t the biggest obstacle facing them. They will have to deal with another possible Vezina contender in Jonathan Quick and a Kings defense that is one of the league’s best at preventing goals. Factor in the physical game that they possess with guys like Dustin Brown in the lineup, and you have a recipe for a tough contest to wrap up the six game road trip.

Fortunately for the Hawks, Los Angeles’ offense has yet to get into a rhythm yet this season, so if the game becomes a high-scoring affair, they would be in good shape. With Quick in net, however, they shouldn’t bank on that possibility.

 

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