One Minute Remaining: Mounting Challenges This Month
When the Blackhawks ring out 2009 in a New Year's Eve clash at the United Center against New Jersey, they will have a much tougher schedule the rest of way.
Because of the break for the Winter Olympic, the Hawks will have four home games each in January and February while skating on enemy rinks 11 times. In fact, for 2010 the regular schedule shows 24 road tilts and only 18 at the UC. The slate includes nine back-to-back situations compared to three this month as the Hawks have an NHL high of 19 for the season.
With expectations for this season at its highest level since 1991, the team is on course to break many UC records. Last month's successful "circus" road trip (4-1-1) was the best since 1990 (5-1).
In terms of Chicago's best mark coming out of November, the 1982-83 squad racked up 37 points (16-3-5) led by Denis Savard, Steve Larmer and Al Secord, plus the goaltending tandem of Tony Esposito and Murray Bannerman, on their way to a 104-point season. The second best was 1990-91 with 36 points (17-8-2) led by Jeremy Roenick, Larmer, Chris Chelios and eventual Calder Trophy winner Ed Belfour, en route to 106 points.
This year's Hawks place third with 35 points (16-6-3) after having just 26 points through November last season.
The 1990-91 team was the top Chicago team to end the month of December, finishing with 57 points (27-13-3), followed by 1982-83 with 56. The 2001-02 Hawks racked up the highest total since moving into the United Center with 54 points (23-12-8) as they had a streak of 4-1-1 to end the year.
Last season the Hawks had 47 points (20-7-7) going into the New Year's Day Winter Classic and wound up with 104 for the best mark since coming to the UC.
Looking back at the three Hawks Stanley Cup winners, the 1961 champs were 14-14-8 at the end of December in a 70-game campaign while finishing with 75 points. The 1934 champ were 10-6-4, but the underdog 1938 Hawks were only 6-9-3 and wound up under .500 (14-25-9) before upsetting Toronto for the Cup.
Maintaining the strong showing on home ice this month plus remaining above .500 on the road will be the challenge for coach Joel Quenneville's Hawks.
Staying injury-free and having special teams performing in the top half of the NHL should go a long way in heading into the last half of a rough schedule for this still young Hawks squad!
Harvey Wittenberg is the Blackhawks' press box announcer and served as the public address announcer from 1961 to 2001.