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Blackhawks season preview: Things to watch

Updated: November 16, 2011 10:36AM

After their early struggles last season, the Blackhawks are determined to get off to a fast start.

“Playing catch-up is not what we’re looking for,” coach Joel Quenneville said before the Hawks departed for Dallas for their season opener Friday against the Stars.

What they really want to avoid is an “83rd game,” as Quenneville put it, like last season, when their playoff lives were dependent on the outcome of a game between the Stars and Minnesota Wild.

“We found a way but not the way we want to get in,” Quenneville said.

The Hawks opened last season with a loaded schedule (13 games in October) and lost eight of their first 15 games and 11 of 19. Many leads were blown and points lost. By December, they were a mediocre 14-11-2.

“We want to focus on the first 20 games or so,” Jonathan Toews said. “If we show up for every game and play the hardest in third periods, we can change what happened to us last year.”

But it’s a long season, and there will be plenty of roller-coaster moments. Here are some things to keep an eye on throughout the season:

The new defense Brian Campbell is gone, so Sean O’Donnell, Sami Lepisto and Steve Montador will be in the cross hairs early as they adjust.

Nik and Nick — With Campbell gone, defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy also will be expected to do more, especially offensively.

Fight club — A ton has been made about the Hawks adding grit and tougher players — maybe too much. Either way, all the havoc Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers and others raise could help — and hurt — the team.

In the middle — How long will Patrick Kane remain at center on a line with Marian Hossa?

Corey’s story — Corey Crawford is entering his first full season as the No. 1 goalie. Expectations are very high, and the buzz is that Crawford could surpass 40 wins. But will there be a sophomore slump at all?

Fro’s show — Michael Frolik is a popular pick for a breakout season. His skill is top-six material, but he’ll be used in defensive roles. A 20-goal season remains a real possibility. Having him around for a full season immensely improves their depth.

Dave’s health — Dave Bolland is nearly as important to the Hawks’ success as Kane, Toews, Hossa and Patrick Sharp. But will he stay healthy? Bolland only has played in 100 games the last two regular seasons, and he’s missing opening night with an upper-body injury.

Road-tripping — It doesn’t get any worse than a three-week, nine-game trip all over North America in January and February.

Central stars — The Central Division will be tougher with the Blues and Blue Jackets improving their lineups. They’re fully capable of making life tougher on the Hawks.

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