The Chicago Blackhawks return to action on Thursday night in New York after almost a month off for the Winter Olympics.
For some players the Olympics were a chance to get away, relax, and prepare for another run at a Stanley Cup. But 10 Blackhawks were in Sochi playing for their countries and had a mix of success and failure. Four Hawks players came away empty-handed, three left with silver medals and three with gold medals
1. Improve in overtime
This has to be a big focus point for the Hawks in these final 22 games. Losing in overtime and missing out on one point may not seem that bad at the time but those points are starting to add up for the Hawks with 14 OT losses.
Cut those loses in half and the Hawks find themselves with an extra seven points and the highest point total in the NHL. The trend is unusual for the Hawks who had success in over time last year. They have yet to win during the four-on-four part of overtime and they have seen some bad player from reliable guys in the shootout. Goalie Corey Crawford has really struggled in shootouts this year and Patrick Kane, who is known for being tough in shootouts, has also fallen off. No excuses for 14 OT loses and the Hawks should be able to turn this trend around.
2. Production from Bryan Bickell
After receiving a big contract in the off-season, Bickell has had a very disappointing 2013-14 campaign for the Blackhawks. He struggled with a knee injury and never returned to form after coming back. In the final few weeks leading up to the Olympic break, Bickell was benched for multiple games and saw little playing time when he did suit up. Hopefully getting away from the game over break helped Bickell clear his head and start producing again. They’re going to need him.
3. Staying healthy and rested/depth
The Hawks were fortunate enough not to have any players suffer injuries during Olympic play. However, the Hawks now have ten players who did not have much of a break. But Joel Quenneville knows his team more than any coach in the league and will monitor minutes and practice time in the final month and a half of the regular season.
Older players like Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus, who both played for Slovakia in the Olympics, may have to miss practices and games here and there. As long as they are in good shape for the playoffs, the Hawks will be ok. Being one of the deepest teams will be big for the Hawks. Players like Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy will need to pick up their game to take pressure of the Olympic players.
Starting on Thursday night, every game is a big game for the Hawks. The Blues were shut out by the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night so the Hawks already have a chance to jump out to a lead in the Central. After playing the Rangers, the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field on Saturday night.