December begins with the Chicago Blackhawks in first place in the Central Division. Life is good.
After a spectacular November that saw the team handle most, if not all, of the Western Conference powers both at home and on the road, the Hawks come on in December for a month highlighted by games against some of the top talent from the Eastern Conference. Thankfully for the fans, though, most of December is played in Chicago.
The fun begins on December 5, when the Hawks make their lone trip to the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. This game could not only be a showcase of some of the best young players in the NHL, but might be a trendy pick to serve as a 2010 Stanley Cup Finals preview. After the Pittsburgh trip, the Hawks return home for New York Rangers before heading to Buffalo to take on the red-hot Sabres on December 11.
This stretch of three games could serve as a good gauge of how the Blackhawks stack up against the stronger teams in the East. But the schedule doesn’t get easy after just that one week.
After the Sabres game, the Hawks have a five-game homestand during which Original Six foes Boston and Detroit come to the United Center. It will be the only trip for the Bruins to Chicago this year, and the first time the Hawks will face the Red Wings since their third game of the season; that loss also happened to be the Wings home opener and the first game either team had played on American soil this season.
Marian Hossa will play the last two teams with whom he advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in Pittsburgh and Detroit. The Red Wings should be getting some of their injured players back during December, but the losses on their roster have kept them from playing consistent hockey this year.
Following the Red Wings could be a dangerous game for the Blackhawks. The final game of the homestand is against the San Jose Sharks… the same Sharks that have lost both games against the Hawks this year and who got their doors blown out in their building during the Circus Trip. If there’s one team on the December schedule that has a score to settle, it’s the Sharks.
The Hawks will leave town for a couple tough games after facing the Sharks, travelling to Detroit and Nashville, before returning home for Nashville again.
The Predators started the season in a funk but have come on strong lately and fall in a couple spots on the December schedule that could present an opportunity for a good team to take advantage of a team playing a lot of games against premier Eastern Conference teams. The back-to-back home and home series on the two days immediately following Christmas could be a great test for both teams.
The final day of 2009 will also present a potential Finals preview when the New Jersey Devils come to Chicago. It will be the first time John Madden faces his former team, and will absolutely serve as a test of the potent Hawks offense against Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur. Both teams are elite defensively, so that could be a bell ringer to end a special calendar year in the history of the Blackhawks.