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A lot to like about first part for Blackhawks

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 8, 2014 at 2:51 pm •  Published: February 8, 2014
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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks head into the NHL's Olympic break in prime position to defend their Stanley Cup title.

Now comes the part that really matters.

The Blackhawks (35-11-14) were shut out for the first time this season when they lost 2-0 at Phoenix on Friday night.

But their six-game trip leading up to the break included impressive wins at Los Angeles and Anaheim that helped them move within one point of the NHL-leading Ducks.

"It was really important before getting the two weeks off. You always want to go into the trip with a little momentum and gain some points before you have a long break like that," goaltender Corey Crawford said after the loss to the Coyotes.

Led by high-scoring Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks lead the league with 207 goals. They have shown the ability to win all kinds of games and have played their best against some of the NHL's top teams.

But there are some concerns for the last part of the season. Here are five things to watch for the Blackhawks with just 22 games left in the season:

OLYMPIC EFFECT: The Blackhawks have 10 players headed to Sochi, matching Detroit and St. Louis for the NHL lead. The list includes five of the team's biggest stars: forwards Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, to go along with defenseman Duncan Keith.

It's more high-intensity minutes for a group of players who shouldered much of the load during Chicago's run to the title last year. How they come out of those Olympic games could have a dramatic effect on the rest of the season.

"We are happy for the guys and it is a great accomplishment and we will be rooting for them," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I just think the concern is how are they going to come and how are they going to feel when they get back to the team and the lineup. We will keep an eye on that going through the stretch."

Hossa, who turned 35 last month and will play for Slovakia in the Olympics, is a particular concern. He was hampered by a back problem during the Stanley Cup, and Quenneville smartly gave him more rest in the run-up the break.

SECOND-LINE CENTER: Michal Handzus, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Pirri each have taken a turn at second-line center, but it remains an issue.

Pirri was recalled from Rockford of the AHL on Jan. 27 and then sent down after he went scoreless in four games. It looks as if it could be Handzus' role for now.

It's unlikely that touted prospect Teuvo Teravainen will be ready in time to help the Blackhawks this season, so general manager Stan Bowman could take a long look at the trade market ahead of the March 5 deadline. He added some depth on Thursday night by acquiring Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard in a trade with the Islanders.

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