By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) Every fall around Thanksgiving, the Blackhawks (and Bulls) are forced to vacate the United Center so some carneys and clowns can move their stuff in, abuse some animals and leave. This annual trip used to be a nightmare for the Blackhawks and their fans. Now, the Hawks are using the trip to get fat on the meat of Western Conference foes. in this year’s circus trip, the Hawks took 10 of a possible 12 points, their only blemish a 4-1 loss to the Canucks last Sunday.
Here’s a few of my observations
The new second line – On the trip, the Hawks scored 23 total goals. Of those 23 tallies, second-line mates Patrick Kane (four), Brad Richards (three) and Kris Versteeg (two) combined for nine goals and 23 points. After Friday’s win in Anaheim, Kane said Richards “makes it fun to play the game.” Kane has never complained about the cavalcade of bad second-line centers the Hawks had rolled out in the past, but he’s going out of his way to let everyone know how happy he is playing with Richards.
I was wrong, part 1 – Entering this season and for long stretches early on, I found myself cursing the fact the Versteeg was on the Hawks’ roster. When the Hawks acquired him last season, I was overjoyed. Memories of 2010 came rushing back, and imagining a third line of Versteeg with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw made my heart flutter. Then, I saw him play.
Versteeg was a shadow of his 2010 self. He was two or three steps slower and disappeared for long stretches of games. He seemed like a prime trade candidate for this offseason, but general manager Stan Bowman held on to him, preaching patience and reminding everyone how the winger was coming off a major injury last season.
Since being placed on the second line with Kane and Richards, Versteeg has been one of the best Hawks on the ice. He’s regained the speed and puck confidence he had before and has contributed to one of hockey’s best line.
I was wrong, part 2 – I was also wrong about Daniel Carcillo, who was invited to the Penguins training camp in hopes of making the roster. He was cut, and the Hawks immediately swooped in and signed him as a free agent. His last stint with the Blackhawks was an abject failure. Suspensions, injuries and all-around bad play made the previous signing a bust. What was going to be different this time around?
Well, Carcillo has refocused his game. Yes, he’s still physical, but he’s learned to use his physicality in a meaningful and productive way. He’s learned to not step over “the line.” Carcillo himself has acknowledged his need to change. With a new family in mind, he knew what he needed to do to change his career. So far, so good.
Shutdown D – Maybe you haven’t noticed, but only one team in the NHL (Nashville) has allowed fewer goals than the Blackhawks. On the six-game trip, Chicago held its opponents to two goals or fewer three times.
Goalie Corey Crawford has been outstanding as well. He’s fourth in the league with a 1.87 goals against average. He’s fifth in the league with a .929 save percentage and is sixth in the league with 12 wins. Keep in mind that he missed six games with an injury, so that win total could certainly be higher.
The Hawks are truly firing on all cylinders right now and should get Patrick Sharp back from injury in another week or so. He’s been skating on his own in Chicago and could be ready to play this week.
Remind: Join Blackhawks winger Ben Smith and me at Mullen’s in Lisle (3080 Warrenville Road) on Monday evening for a Bud Light “On the Glass” event. Smith will answer questions and sign autographs from 7-8:30 p.m. Hope to see you all there.
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Mannelly Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.