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Blackhawks Mon Nov 17 2014

Blackhawks Prep for Tough Circus Trip

Chicago Blackhawks Sunday night marked the last home game for the Blackhawks for a few weeks with the annual Circus Trip starting Thursday night in Calgary, and they were able to send the fans home happy after a 6-2 final against the Stars. Four goals in the third period provided the Hawks with their fifth win in their last 10 games and their seventh home victory out of 11.

Now comes the long stretch each season where the team packs its bags and heads west for a few weeks. This year's edition has the Hawks facing the Flames, Oilers, Canucks, Avs, Ducks and Kings -- a trip that could prove to be challenging compared to years' past.

The scoring woes for the Hawks, aside from last night's effort, isn't considered breaking news as teams have found a way to limit any second-chance shots by keeping the offense away from the net, especially the weak side. And with the eleventh-best road record in the conference at 3-4-0 (San Jose leads the West with an 8-5-2 road record), Joel Quenneville's squad will look to improve upon it and hopefully mirror its 6-1-0 Circus Trip record from last season.

That's not necessarily going to be as easy this time around. The Avs have started a little slowly this year and Edmonton isn't a team that keeps Jonathan Toews awake at night, but the West-leading Ducks, defending Stanley Cup champion Kings and improved Canucks will prove to be a tough test for a team without Patrick Sharp and now defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who suffered a leg injury trying to block a shot Sunday night.

The Hawks more than likely will bring up a defenseman from Rockford early in the week, and it's possible Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck or Stephen Johns might get the call. One move already in the books was sending down goalie Antti Raanta and bringing up Scott Darling. The Hawks also brought up Joakim Nordstrom and will more than likely work on the third or fourth line.

So what will the Blackhawks need in order to survive this trip and come back with at least a handful of points? For one, staying consistent with shots and putting the puck on net. Improved play amongst those who have had recent struggles also will be key.

With Brad Richards being honored for playing in his one-thousandth game Sunday night, he's been on the upswing as of late after being demoted down to the lower end of the shift chart. And Kris Versteeg has seen a recent uptick in performance at least compared to last season.

According to war-on-ice.com, a fantastic site for hockey analytics, Versteeg's goals-per-60 minutes is up (1.45); his points-per-60 is up (2.61); his Fenwick percentage is WAY up (4.56) and he's nearly scored half as many goals this year (five) as last season (12). If Versteeg can keep up this pace of possession, it will help that second line of Richards and Patrick Kane.

Dan Carcillo is back up from injury and skated eight minutes-plus Sunday night on the same line as Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. Not much happened with that fourth line as it produced a combined +4 in CORSI and combined +5 in Fenwick, so it'll be interesting to see if Quenneville keeps the threesome together on the trip.

You hear of teams bonding on long road trips, and surely the Hawks will have fun along the way, but keeping pace as the season reaches the quarter post is going to be the toughest test of the season thus far for this team. What waits is a December schedule a little more favorable before heading into the new year.

 
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