With a heavy Eastern Conference schedule for the remainder of their games in October, the Blackhawks need to take care of business against the not-so-stellar Eastern Conference teams in order to keep up with the tough Western Conference.
With the likes of struggling teams in Carolina, Florida and Ottawa, the Blackhawks must capitalize each and every night for the remainder of October. These games on paper are easy points and with each game against these struggling teams, the Hawks can work on different game plans that they will need in order to succeed against Western Conference teams.
Even though the teams the Blackhawks are playing against the rest of the month have had subpar starts to the 2013-2014 season, whenever any team is playing the defending Stanley Cup champions, they are going to have a target on their backs. Every team will play the Hawks as if it was a playoff game and the Hawks will be challenged each and every night.
With the easy part of their schedule in the final weeks of October, the play of stars Marian Hossa and Brian Bickell needs to improve. Hossa through five games has looked slow and only has registered two points. Also, recently extended Brian Bickell has, for lack of a better term, been a disappointment to start the season. The tough and scrappy player we saw at the end of last season and the playoffs has not really shown up so far as he has registered a minus-2 rating and only one point through the first five games.
But, as the Blackhawks enter this “easy” part of their schedule, this is the perfect time for players like Hossa and Bickell to step up and show that they can still bring the high level intensity night in and night out. If they don’t start producing, do not be surprised if you see coach Joel Quenneville start shifting some younger guys up in the lines and move players who are not producing around.
Don’t also be surprised to see more of 40-year-old backup goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. The backup netminder looked like the 40-year-old goaltender he is and in his only start of the season so far against the New York Islanders, Khabibulin let the Islanders back in the game at the end of the first period, letting up two quick goals only 49 seconds apart.
With the departure of backup Ray Emery from last year’s team, the Blackhawks need to be confident with their backup and it does not look great with the play of Khabibulin.
While the Blackhawks are the defending Cup champions, they still need to be aware that every team is after them this season. Even though these next handfuls of games are against easier Eastern Conference opponents, the Hawks still have a big target on them and they need to bring their A-game every single night.
The Blackhawks begin their stretch of final games in October, Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. Puck drop is scheduled for 6pm (Central) and can be seen on CSN-Chicago and Fox Sports-Carolinas.