After Olympic Break, Here Come The Hawks
The Blackhawks are back on the ice Thursday in New York against the Rangers after their 10 Olympians returned from Sochi, six of them sporting medals. Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp all won gold with Team Canada, while Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Krüger brought home silver for Sweden.
Now on to more important business: winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.
The transition back home will be a rough one, especially since the six gold and silver medalists played in the tournament until Sunday. Another concern will be adjusting to the smaller ice surface in the NHL. Even though much was made about the skill-focused European-style hockey of the Olympics, plenty of hits were handed out as the NHL players relied on the style they're used to. The extra games and travel will certainly take a toll on the players, how much is anyone's guess.
Fortunately for the Hawks, everyone returns healthy from the Olympics. Many teams, including contenders Red Wings and Penguins, weren't so lucky. The rest of the team has been practicing in Chicago, starting last week, waiting for their season to resume. All of the Olympians practiced Wednesday, except for Toews and Keith who logged heavy minutes for Team Canada.
The schedule will hopefully help the Hawks, as they'll get plenty of home cooking after the break. Twelve of their final 22 games are in Chicago, starting Saturday at Soldier Field against Pittsburgh. However, they don't have much room for error, with several games against the Avalanche, Blues and tough Eastern Conference teams like the Bruins. The Hawks are currently tied at the top of the Central division with the Blues, who have two games in hand. The Avalanche are in third place in the division, only five points behind, with one game in hand.
Only time will tell if the Hawks experience a Olympics hangover or if they will follow the precedent set in 2010, when they returned to go on to win the Stanley Cup.