Looking ahead: Blackhawks will be tested through January

Chicago enters a month of marquee games

With the Christmas break now behind them, the Blackhawks enter one of their most crucial stretches of the season. Games against the Jets, Predators and Hurricanes to close out December are merely a warm up for what’s to come.

At Blues (Jan. 2)

The Hawks begin 2017 with a trip to St. Louis and another appearance in the Winter Classic. Chicago defeated the Blues on 6-4 December 17 in one of the best offensive showcases this season. Artemi Panarin notched a goal and two assists as the Hawks scored three goals in the third to secure the victory.

Moreover, this game puts the division rivals back in the national spotlight. The Winter Classic is definitely more style than substance, but it’s a game Chicago will be motivated to win on the road.

Vs. Predators (Jan. 8)

Another division rivalry resumes. The Blackhawks haven’t faced the Preds since a back-to-back during the first week of the season. Nashville has been inconsistent for most of the year, but with P.K. Subban, Pekka Rinne, Filip Forsberg, and Ryan Ellis there’s enough star power on the Preds to make this worth watching out for.

Vs. Red Wings (Jan. 10)

Detroit is pretty abysmal this season. It’s hovering around .500 with a -13 goal differential and are sitting in 7th place in the Atlantic Division.

Still, this is a rivalry game. It’s one of just two meetings all season between the two. Even if it only matters to the fans, it’s never hard to get excited about seeing the Red Wings come to Chicago.

At Capitals (Jan. 13)

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Oh, and Washington has only lost nine games to date. The Hawks dropped their first meeting against the Caps this season 3-2 in overtime at the United Center. Jay Beagle, Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell and Marcus Johansson all scored so we’re due for some flashy players to step up this time around.

Vs. Wild (Jan. 15)

The Wild get no respect.

They entered the Christmas break on what seems like the quietest 10-game winning streak in NHL history. Devan Dubnyk is playing at a level worth of the Vezina trophy and Eric Staal is only 10 points away from surpassing his season total last year.

The most dangerous team in the Western Conference right now is sitting just three points back of the first place Hawks and hardly anyone seems to be talking about them.

At Boston (Jan. 20)

The Hawks travel out east again to face another top team. Boston won just three of it’s last eight games before the Christmas break and seems as likely as any team to benefit from the time off. Add in the Stanley Cup Final rematch factor and this is sure to be another intense battle against the Bruins.

Vs. Lightning (Jan. 24)

Chicago will get another Stanley Cup Final rematch in the midst of a three-game homestand. Tampa Bay has left a lot to be desired this season, but is always entertaining to watch.

At Sharks (Jan. 31)

Following four days off, the Hawks close out January with the start of another trip out west. San Jose is leading the Pacific Division exiting the Christmas break and should remain near the top when the Sharks play Chicago.

The last time these two met, the Hawks were finishing a stretch of four games in six nights. They were exhausted and somehow turned a grind-it-out game into a 4-1 blowout victory. So it’s only right Chicago faces San Jose again at the end of a grueling month.

It’d be nice to say February gets easier after all of this. Unfortunately, the San Jose game marks the beginning of a six-game road trip for the Hawks with stops in Arizona, Dallas, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Edmonton. That takes Chicago up to it’s bye week on February 12th.

And then there’s only about a month until the playoffs begin.

Strap in. Everything is about to get real intense from here on out.