After an exceptionally long offseason, there’s less than a month to go until the Chicago Blackhawks’ first game! That’s right, Oct. 5 marks the beginning of the 2017-18 season.
Over the last eight years, fans have gotten used to seeing good things from the Hawks. They’ve won three Stanley Cups (2010, 2013, 2015), and made it all the way to the Conference Final in 2014. The other four years, they lost in the first round of the playoffs. So, it appears it’s either feast or famine for this Chicago team.
Surely die-hard fans will try to watch as many of the 82 games as they can. But it’s not always possible to watch every matchup. Here are five must-see Hawks games to help you get a pulse on this 2017-18 team.
Battle of the Dynasties
Oct. 5 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
It being the Hawks’ first game of the season, as well as in Chicago, is reason enough to tune in. Everyone will be excited that hockey is back. But to add to the intrigue, the Hawks will be taking on the defending Stanley Cup champions.
While Chicago recently brought home three Stanley Cups in six years, Pittsburgh has won two consecutive Cups. Because of these achievements, the word ‘dynasty’ is often associated with both teams. The Hawks’ success was a few years ago, whereas the Pens are the current reigning champs. Either way, both fanbases can argue that their team has done something special, and that’s why their club is the best.
Jonathan Toews is considered one of the better players and captains in the league. [photo: Amy Irvin]
The controversy goes beyond even that. The Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews and the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby came into the league at about the same time, and they both play the center position. Crosby was taken first overall in the 2005 NHL Draft, and Toews was taken third overall in the 2006 draft. While Crosby was named the captain of his team in the 2007-08 season, Toews claimed the same honor in the 2008-09 season.
One could go on and on about their awards and honors over the years, not to mention the extremely high-intensity level of both players. They are constantly being compared. Who is the better player? Who is the best captain? To make a long story short, there are always fireworks when these two guys square off against each other.
Who Wins This Trade?
Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Another matchup to highlight is the very next contest on the schedule. Oct. 7 marks the first weekend home game of the season. Needless to say, the house will be rockin’. But most importantly, ex-Blackhawk Artemi Panarin is now a member of the Blue Jackets after being traded in the offseason for Brandon Saad. And Saad is back in his Blackhawks sweater after two years away. The last time he wore the Indianhead, he was raising a Stanley Cup.
Brandon Saad has seen a lot of success with the Blackhawks. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
All eyes should be on Panarin and Saad. It’s only the second contest of the year for both clubs, but everyone is wondering who got the better end of this trade. Will Panarin’s offensive abilities win? Or will Saad’s superior two-way play succeed? Only time will tell, but this will be the first time both players compete against each other with their new teams.
Feasting off the Blackhawks
Nov. 11 @ Carolina Hurricanes
The Hawks have been forced to trade away many excellent players due to salary cap constraints over the last few years. No team has taken more advantage of this than the Hurricanes. This offseason, the Canes acquired former Hawks goaltender Scott Darling, forward Marcus Kruger, and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk. Current Hurricane forwards Teuvo Teravainen and Joakim Nordstrom also used to play for Chicago.
All signs point toward Darling getting the starting goaltending gig in Carolina. Last season, he and starter Corey Crawford provided an excellent tandem in net for the Hawks. In 32 games played, Darling posted a .924 save percentage, which was good for fifth in the league. His 2.38 goals-against average was 11th in the league. With those kinds of numbers, he deserves a shot at a starting spot, and it appears the Hurricanes will give it to him.
From his time in Chicago, Scott Darling has earned his right at a starting spot with the Hurricanes. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
Kruger is known for his grit and determination. He was a bottom-six player for Chicago, mostly relied on for his defensive reliability. It was his job to retrieve the puck and turn the ice, so the star players had another shot at scoring. Naturally, he also excelled on the penalty kill. As a center, his 49.1 faceoff percentage last year was second only to Toews, whose 54.9 percent mark ranked at the top of the league. Krugs wasn’t flashy; he was the ultimate utility player. He was always the guy doing the dirty work, and the Hawks will sorely miss his contributions.
van Riemsdyk has gotten a lot of flak in his past two full seasons with the Hawks. This has to do with the fact that he was often placed on the first defensive pairing alongside Duncan Keith. Asking him to skate on the top pairing was a recipe for disaster. He’s a good player, and has seen much improvement, but he realistically should be placed on the third pairing.
Needless to say, it will be strange and bittersweet to see these former Hawks suiting up for the Hurricanes. It will also be interesting to see how they fare with their new team.
The Latest Rival; Never Forget the Sweep
Jan. 30 @ Nashville Predators
Yeah, the Hawks are going to bring it against the Predators this year. After the embarrassment of being swept in last year’s playoffs, expect the Hawks to show some extra intensity when these two teams meet. And the Preds will be more than happy to return the favor. Being in the same division, they square off four times in the regular season: Oct. 14, Oct. 27, Nov. 28, and Jan. 30. While all these matchups promise fireworks, the one to tune in to should be Jan. 30.
The Blackhawks are anxious for revenge after being swept by the Predators in the first round of the 2016-17 playoffs. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)
By this time, the idea is that both teams will have established themselves as playoff contenders. They won’t meet again until a potential matchup in said playoffs, so this final game would provide one team a four-point swing against the other in the standings. It should be an important game.
The Older Rival, Down to the Wire
April 6 vs. St. Louis Blues
St. Louis and Chicago have been rivals for a long time. Being in the same division and meeting countless times in the playoffs can do that. Their close geographical proximity to each other is a factor in their rivalry as well. Most recently, the Blues defeated the Hawks in seven games in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. Back in 2014, the Hawks eliminated the Blues in six games, also in the first round. To say there is no love lost between these two teams would be an understatement.
The Hawks and the Blues are no strangers to rivalry. (Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports)
This year, the Hawks and the Blues will have their 80th and 81st games against each other on April 4 and April 6. That’s two consecutive games against the same opponent, and a division rival at that. Not to mention these contests are at the end of the regular season. Now, chances are one or both teams will be out of playoff contention, and these games will be meaningless. But the odds are pretty high these last two matchups could determine playoff standings for both teams in the Central Division. If that’s the case, the game on the 6th at the United Center will be a must-see!
There you have it. The above are your top five Hawks games to watch this upcoming 2017-18 season. Don’t forget to mark them on your calendar; although hopefully, you will find a way to watch many, many more. Here’s to a successful season!