Blackhawks Kick Off 2016 on a High Note

Photo Credit: Bill Smith/ Getty Images

Photo Credit: Bill Smith/ Getty Images

Chicago kicked off 2016 on a high note shutting out the Ottawa Senators 3-0 Sunday night at the United Center.

Going into 2016, Chicago began the new year in third place in the Central Division behind the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. After shutting out the Senators, the Blackhawks are currently tied with the Blues for second place in the Central Division with 50 points, according to NHL.com.

With Chicago playing in a tough division with the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators, Chicago has a tough task ahead of them to stay in contention with all of those teams.

Looking ahead in the schedule, Chicago plays two teams in the month of January that have a record under .500. Those teams being the Carolina Hurricanes, with a record of 16-17-4, and the Buffalo Sabres, with a record of 15-20-4, according to ESPN.com.

With that being said, here’s a look ahead at the Blackhawks schedule for the month of January.

Pittsburgh Penguins: 19-15-4

After their big win to start the new year in Chicago, the Blackhawks are on their way to Pittsburgh where they will play the Penguins on January 5th and then host the Penguins at the United Center on January 6th.

These next two games will be the only time these two teams will see each other this season due to the fact that they play in different conferences. Currently, Pittsburgh is 19-15-4 and in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, according to ESPN.com.

Pittsburgh has a ton of talent on their roster with players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. However, Pittsburgh has not played well their last 10 games, going 4-6. One of the reasons for their lack of success the past few games is because they did not have their starting goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, for a couple of games because of a concussion. But Fleury has returned to the ice and should be in net for the Penguins Tuesday night when they play the Blackhawks.

Buffalo Sabres: 15-20-4

On January 8th, Chicago will host the Buffalo Sabres. I expect the Blackhawks to play well in this game because Buffalo is currently in a rebuild mode. Even though Buffalo is one of the worst teams in the NHL, I am looking forward to this matchup because the Blackhawks will be playing against the highly coveted rookie Jack Eichel. The 19-year-old was drafted second overall by the Sabres in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Even though Buffalo has not played well, Eichel has played exceptionally well for a rookie. Among rookies, Eichel is fourth in points with 25, tied for first in goals with 13 and fourth in assists with 12, according to ESPN.com.

Back in December, Buffalo played a hard, fought game against the Blackhawks taking them to a shootout. Chicago came on top with a game-winning shootout goal by Patrick Kane.

January 8th will be the last time these two teams see each other this season.

Colorado Avalanche: 18-18-3

On January 10th, Chicago will host the Colorado Avalanche, which will be their third meeting this season. Both teams have won a game against each other. Back on December 15th, the Avalanche surprisingly shutout the Blackhawks at the United Center 3-0. That game happened to be the one that ended Patrick Kane’s miraculous point streak at 26 games. Then on December 31st, Chicago went to Colorado and took care of business beating the Avalanche 4-3 in overtime. Jonathan Toews scored the game winner on a power play goal set up by Kane and Brent Seabrook.

Currently, Colorado is sitting at 18-18-3, according to ESPN.com. Surprisingly, it always seems that the Blackhawks struggle when they play the Avalanche. According to NHL.com, last season the Blackhawks finished 2-3 against Colorado and in 2013-2014, Chicago finished 1-3-1.

Colorado has young talent on their roster with Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene as their best players.

This game should be a tight and close game. If Corey Crawford is on his game, I expect the Blackhawks to take care of business at home that night.

Nashville Predators: 19-13-7

On January 12th, Chicago will host the Nashville Predators and then will head to Nashville on January 19th. These teams have played each other twice. On December 8th, Chicago played phenomenal against the Predators winning 4-1, but two days later Nashville put a beating on the Blackhawks winning 5-1 at their place.

The season series is tied 1-1 and will shift back to the United Center January 12th. It is always fun watching these two teams play being rivals and playing against each other in the playoffs. If prior history stands, it looks like each team will take care of business at their home stadium.

Montreal Canadiens: 22-15-3

Currently, Montreal is in second place in the Atlantic Division with a 22-15-3 record, only trailing the Florida Panthers in the division, according to NHL.com.

January 14th will be the first time these teams will play each other this season.

I’m looking forward not for the offense between these two teams, but on the defensive side of the puck. Chicago has multiple talent on the defensive side of the puck with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. However, Montreal has one of the best defenseman in the league who can play both sides in P.K. Subban. According to NHL.com, Subban is third among defenseman in assists with 26.

Since we have yet to see these two teams play each other this season, you can expect this game to be low scoring with both teams trying to figure each other out throughout the game.

Toronto Maple Leafs: 15-15-4

After Montreal, Chicago will head to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs on January 15th. Just like the Canadiens, both the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks have yet to play each other. Currently, Toronto is in seventh place in the Atlantic Division, according to NHL.com.

Toronto is not an offensive minded team that will score a lot of goals. According to NHL.com, Toronto ranks 18th in goals per game with 2.6 and 13th in power play percentage with 19.6 percent. They also rank in the bottom half of the NHL in defense ranking 18th in goals against with 2.7 and 18th in penalty kill percentage with 79.7 percent.

Toronto is not a flashy team like the Blackhawks and I expect Chicago will win big on the road that night in Toronto.

Tampa Bay Lightning: 19-16-4

On January 21st, Chicago will head to Tampa Bay to take on their opponent in last years Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning. These teams have already played each other this year. Back in October, Chicago beat Tampa Bay in overtime on a goal scored by Toews.

A lot of hockey experts believed that Tampa Bay would be a force in the Eastern Conference, however, the team has played mediocre all season. Currently, Tampa Bay is sitting in fifth place in the Atlantic Division with 42 points, according to ESPN.com

January 21st will be the last time these two teams see each other this season and we could see some high tensions between these teams as Tampa Bay will look for revenge from last season.

Florida Panthers: 23-12-4

Out of all the games in the month of January, this is the game I am looking forward to the most. Remember back in the day when Chicago was struggling to win games and had to rebuild? The same thing happened to the Florida Panthers in recent years during the time Chicago has been succeeding and winning championships. However, both these teams have something in common. Both teams were built by the same man, a man by the name of Dale Tallon.

Dale Tallon is the man who built the Chicago Blackhawks. He is the one who drafted Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and Bryan Bickell. Tallon is the one who traded for Patrick Sharp and signed free agent Marian Hossa. If it were not for Tallon, who knows how good this Blackhawks team would have been.

Currently, he is the general manager for the Florida Panthers and has that team in first place in the Atlantic Division. Florida has been horrific over recent years and to finally see them playing at a high level is great for the NHL.

St. Louis Blues: 23-14-4

Chicago will host their division rivals, the St. Louis Blues, on January 24th at the United Center.

It’s always fun watching these two teams play each other because it is always a physical game when these two teams are matched up together.

St. Louis is tied with Chicago for second place in the Central Division with 50 points a piece, according to NHL.com. On the season, they have played each other twice. St. Louis won the first matchup 6-5, but Chicago came back a week later to win in St. Louis 4-2.

You can expect to see another physical game when they play each other.

Carolina Hurricanes: 16-17-6

To end the month, Chicago will head to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes. Even though the Hurricanes are under .500 and in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, according to NHL.com, they beat the Blackhawks in their only meeting thus far this season back in December at the United Center.

Chicago was coming off a four day rest period and did not look like themselves that night against Carolina. I expect that to be different when they play the Hurricanes at the end of the month. Chicago is a better team and should have no problem against them.

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