VANCOUVER -- It’s a good thing the All-Star break came when it did for the Chicago Blackhawks. Not only did it give extra time for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp to heal from their respective ailments, it also gave most of the team -- minus All-Stars Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane -- time to rest up for a historic upcoming 20 days.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, for just the 17th time in league history a team will embark on a road trip of nine games or longer. The San Jose Sharks will make it No. 18 next month when they do the same, but for the Hawks this will be the third time in team history they’ve played nine consecutive games away from home.
The last time they did it was in 1994. They went 4-5 after starting the trip 3-1. Prior to that the only other nine-game trip came in the 1955-1956 season. They also went 4-5.
Incidentally, the team’s performances after those road trips were vastly different. In 1994 the Hawks went 8-2-2 over their next 12 games but in 1955 they were 0-7-2 and missed the playoffs.
The last two teams in the NHL to be on the road for at least nine games were the Los Angeles Kings last season and the Vancouver Canucks the year before when the Olympics sent them out for 14 consecutive games. They went 8-5-1. Los Angeles was 6-1-3 over a 10-game span. So success isn’t impossible.
The Hawks have broken up each three-game segment into three different trips. After each one they’ll come home for a change of clothes and a practice before heading back out. It’s sure to test their mettle as well as their 29-15-6 record.
Here’s a look at what’s in store for them as they crisscross western Canada and the United States.
Vancouver/Edmonton/Calgary, Tuesday-Saturday: The first game of the trip might be the juiciest for plenty of obvious reasons. This will be the first meeting between the teams since Dave Bolland called Daniel and Henrik Sedin the “Sedin sisters” on a Chicago radio show in December. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault responded by saying Bolland’s IQ was the “size of a bird seed and [he has] a face only a mother can look at.” Both sides have since backed down. The game also marks the debut for newly acquired center Brendan Morrison who starred for Vancouver from 1999-2008. Both teams have decisive wins on the other team’s ice this season.
The theme for Edmonton and Calgary is simple: revenge. The Oilers embarrassed the Hawks 9-2 last time in Edmonton in November and then beat them in the “Dan Carcillo game” at the United Center on Jan. 2 when he blew out his knee and was suspended for seven games all in one play. The Flames also beat the Hawks the day before Edmonton did and Morrison will get a chance to face the team that just traded him. Plenty of drama awaits in western Canada.
Colorado/San Jose/Phoenix, Feb. 6-12: The Avalanche always play the Hawks tough and present a problem defensively because of their speed. Revenge might be on the Hawks’ minds for this one as well, having been shut out at home 4-0 the last time the teams met. Speaking of last meetings, the Hawks finally got to Sharks goalie Antti Niemi in a 4-3 victory earlier this month at the United Center. Last time in San Jose, the Hawks played great but so did Niemi, besting his old team 1-0. The Hawks owe Phoenix a solid showing after losing both their home games to the Coyotes this season, 4-1 and 4-3, in the span of a week in early December though the Hawks played one of their best games in October winning 5-2 in Glendale, Ariz.
Nashville/New York Rangers/Columbus, Feb. 13-18: The final leg of the trip moves East as again the Hawks will look to avenge losses, this time to the Predators who beat them twice right before the All-Star break. The Rangers are one of the best in the Eastern Conference and are the only team in the East the Hawks play on the whole trip. If Chicago has a good run through the first seven games many will dub the matchup as a possible finals preview. The finale of the nine-game trip might look easy -- Columbus hasn’t beaten the Hawks in four tries this season -- but it’s the finale of a nine-game trip. Who knows what condition the Hawks will be in? We’ll find out in about 20 days.