Blackhawks’ A+ in chemistry big reason for road success
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter February 6, 2014 9:16PM
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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:36AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Asked what he did during the Blackhawks’ two-day break in Las Vegas last week, Brent Seabrook just smiled and shook his head.
‘‘There’s a lot to do in Vegas,’’ Seabrook said Thursday after the Hawks practiced at Jobing.com Arena in preparation for Friday night’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes. ‘‘Just relax. Get away from the game a little bit and have a little break. We’ve played a lot of games. The Blackhawks have done a good job of breaking it up and give back to us a little bit and have a little fun. I think it’s good.’’
The Vegas trip isn’t the sole reason the Blackhawks have started to recapture their early season form through five games of the six-game ‘‘ice show’’ road trip. But even coach Joel Quenneville acknowledged the side trip as a factor in the team’s resurgence that not coincidentally has occurred during a two-week road trip.
‘‘It’s good bonding for the guys [on the road],’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘It seems like you get that excitement on the bench and in the locker room. The guys are together 24/7. We’ve got a close-knit group here where spending a little extra time with one another, there are no distractions. Everybody’s focused in the right areas.
‘‘I think that diversion [of] taking the group to Vegas certainly is a nice change of scenery. It’s healthy for [everybody].’’
Heading into the trip, the Hawks were 4-3-5 in January and coming off a 3-1 loss at home to the Winnipeg Jets. Even Quenneville had his doubts. ‘‘We were kind of wondering going into it how we were going to be,’’ he said.
The Hawks have responded by getting better every step of the way. They’re 3-0-2 on this trip, with three victories in their last four games. In their 2-0 victory over the NHL-leading but slumping Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night, the Hawks were at their championship finest — timely goals from Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, great goaltending and a playoff-level focus on critical penalty kills, including a 5-on-3 and a four-minute double minor.
‘‘That’s something that really wasn’t present for awhile ... in January,’’ Toews said. ‘‘The last five games or so it’s really come back.’’
The Blackhawks have been the best road team in the NHL (118-67-32) since Quenneville became their head coach in 2008. Their 17-6-7 record this season is the second best in the NHL behind the Blues (17-7-3). Last year their 18-4-2 road record not only was the best in the NHL, it was better than every other team’s home record.
‘‘I don’t know what it is,’’ defenseman Michal Rozsival said. ‘‘Maybe it’s just ... not being under as much pressure. I think we play a little different game when we’re on the road. We try to play a little simpler game.
‘‘And on the road you feel like you’re in enemy territory, so you feel like you have to really prepare and focus. It says a lot for the preparation of this team.’’
The Hawks feel like the enemy more in some arenas than others. There has been a boisterous contingent of Hawks fans at San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.
‘‘Besides the two Canadian games, we’ve had a lot of fans in the opposing building — that helps,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘It’s pretty fun playing when [even though] there’s no horn going off after a goal, the crowd’s cheering pretty good.’’
The Blackhawks havee been particularly good on the extended circus and ice-show trips — 13-1-4 over the past two seasons. They were 6-1 in the November trip, winning the last six games.
That’s arguably an indication of the special chemistry the Hawks have had in their Stanley Cup-winning seasons, when they’ve played their best at the most critical situations. These guys play together well — whether the road trip takes them to the Honda Center, the Las Vegas Strip or the Dexter Lake Club.
‘‘I don’t think it’s as much Vegas as it is being with the guys,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘Being able to have a couple of days with nothing to do but have some fun, play some cards, have some beers — it’s good for our guys.
‘‘Camaraderie is such a big thing in this game. The Blackhawks have done a good job — starting at Notre Dame this year, taking us to Vegas — of doing little things that bring guys together and allow us to have a little fun.’’