The Chicago Blackhawks closed December with a loss and opened January the same way. Now they look like they’re back to doing what they’ve done for most of the previous month—winning.
Coming off two dominant victories, the Blackhawks will try to make it three in a row on Thursday when they continue their three-game road trip against the Colorado Avalanche.
Chicago (22-8-7) has gone from being a young, up-and-coming team to one that’s been nearly unbeatable over the past month. Since the beginning of December, the Blackhawks have lost three games—all to Stanley Cup champion Detroit—and they’ve won their other 12 contests.
Following a pair of losses to the Red Wings on Dec. 30 and Jan. 1, Chicago rebounded quickly with some incredible hot streaks in their next two games.
Three goals late in the second period blew open a 1-1 tie with Calgary on Sunday, as the Blackhawks went on to win 5-2. Two nights later in Phoenix, Chicago scored four times in five minutes in the first period, then got two goals from Jonathan Toews in a 6-0 rout of the Coyotes, goaltender Cristobal Huet’s second shutout of the season.
“It was a game that we wanted to get off on a good start on this trip,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Guys have been really diligent in their preparation for this trip. … No matter who the opposition is we want to make sure we’re consistent in our game and today we were.”
The Blackhawks have won their last two games without leading scorer Patrick Kane, who’s dealing with an ankle injury suffered in the loss at Detroit on Dec. 30. Kane is day-to-day, but likely will be held out for at least one more game.
Chicago’s plus-42 goal differential, which has increased by nine even with Kane sidelined, is the best in the Western Conference.
“I think we’re mature enough to take it one game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves,” Toews said.
Sakic hasn’t played since November, and on Wednesday underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk, leaving him out until at least March. Stastny, who leads the team with 31 points, fractured his forearm on Dec. 23 and will be sidelined until late February at the earliest.
Needing more production at center, coach Tony Granato moved winger Wojtek Wolski to center at Nashville on Tuesday, and the gamble paid off immediately. Wolski scored both of Colorado’s goals in a 2-1 win.
“It is like riding a bike,” said Wolski, who has nine goals. “Once you have done it for long enough you are going to get used to it and it will come back quickly. With our coaching staff helping me all the time and giving me pointers it has been a lot easier.”
Backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft started against the Predators, picking up his fifth consecutive win since Nov. 29. The rarely used Raycroft has a 2.15 goals-against average in those starts.
The majority of the playing time, though, has gone to starter Peter Budaj, who’s 5-7-1 with a 3.04 GAA in that same stretch.
Budaj started both meetings with Colorado this season. Andrew Ladd and Patrick Sharp scored twice apiece in a 6-2 Blackhawks’ win in Chicago on Nov. 3, then Dustin Byfuglien had a pair of goals in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 victory in Denver on Dec. 12.