Hockey is back! If you’re as big of a Hawks fan as I am, advice then you too are excited beyond words for the start of hockey season. The Blackhawks’ regular season officially begins next Tuesday, October 1st against the Washington Capitals where the Blackhawks will raise their Stanley Cup championship banner. There’s no doubt the United Center’s crowd will be at a fever pitch that night, but once the fanfare has died down and it’s time to get the season going, which teams do we watch out for this season?
First, be sure that you are aware of the new NHL conferences and divisions. The NHL made sweeping changes in their re-alignment this offseason, moving the East and the West Conferences from three divisions to two. The West is now made up of the Pacific and the Central Divisions. The Hawks remain in the Central Division, but it will look different this year as the Red Wings and Blue Jackets left the Western Conference Central division and made the move over the the East and the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche moved over from the former Northwest and Pacific divisions of the West to the Central in the West. Check out the video below for further clarification.
This season will also prove to be more challenging for the Hawks as they will face Eastern Conference teams all season long. Last year, due to the shortened season that resulted from the NHL Lockout, NHL teams only faced opposing teams in the same conference. This year, the Hawks will face tough Eastern Conference opponents like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Hawks toughest stretch lies after the New Year, but a lot can happen in just the first two months of the season, as we saw last year when the Hawks broke an NHL record starting the season 21-0-3 going 24 straight games without a loss in regulation. Let’s break it down one stretch at a time and start with the October – December window.
A big central opponent for the Hawks this year will be the St. Louis Blues who they face at home for the first time this season on October 17th. The Blues pose a threat as they are a team that’s much grittier than ours. Their guys tend to be bigger than ours and tend to hit harder as well. The Hawks have many skilled players, we just don’t play as physical of a game as The Blues; something to be mindful of.
The San Jose Sharks roll into town on November 17. Fans who may look forward to booing former Phoenix Coyote bad boy Raffi Torres will have to wait a few more months for the infamous instigator as he’s out for 4-6 months with a torn ACL. This, ladies and gentleman, is what I call karma. That doesn’t mean the Hawks should ignore the rest of the team. With former Hawks Adam Burish and Antti Niemi, The Sharks will put us to the test.
The Hawks take their first Circus Trip of the season starting November 19th when they hit the road for a seven-game stretch, and won’t return to the UC until December 3rd.
The Hawks will face their Western Conference Champion opponents and 2012 Stanley Cup Champs, the LA Kings twice in December at home on the 15th and on the 30th. Watch for the Kings to come back hungry and looking to draw blood as payback for the Hawks easily eliminating them in the Western Conference Finals last season.
Another team to watch out for in December is Anaheim. The Ducks sit two teams behind us in the NHL standings already in preseason, so you know they’re ones to watch. If you attend the game on December 3, keep your eye on Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf; they’re two of Anaheim’s outstanding players.
Be sure to download the entire 2013-14 Blackhawks schedule ahead of time so you never miss a matchup. Now, get ready to rock the Hawks gear and head to the UC or your neighborhood bar and cheer your heart out for the reigning Stanley Cup champs!