Chicago Blackhawks were defeated 4-2 by Detroit Red Wings in their latest pre-season game on Thursday as they continued their preparations for the new NHL campaign.
Two goals in the third period secured victory for the Red Wings, but Chicago showed some promising signs for the upcoming season.
The Blackhawks’ decline since winning the Stanley Cup in 2015 has been rapid, culminating in them missing the play-offs last year for the first time in nine seasons.
Corey Crawford’s concussion undoubtedly played a key role in Chicago’s demise, with the netminder missing the final 47 games last term.
Crawford has confirmed that he is still feeling the effects of the concussion and the Blackhawks have signed former Caroline Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward to lead them when the new season starts.
The club has moved to shore up its leaky backline, with promising defencemen Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin drafted this summer.
Chris Kunitz and Brandon Manning have also arrived in Chicago, although fans were less than impressed with their signings.
The new boys will have another chance to familiarise themselves with the Blackhawks at Ottawa Senators on Friday, before returning home to face the Red Wings on Tuesday, September 25.
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The Blackhawks will complete the pre-season schedule with home games against the Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets, before the NHL season opener in Ottawa on October 4.
Having endured such a disappointing 2017/18 campaign, Blackhawks’ fans could be forgiven for fearing the upcoming season.
However, Chicago still have plenty of talent on their roster, with the likes of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews amongst the NHL’s top stars.
If the Blackhawks are to challenge for a play-off spot, veteran ‘D’ men Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook must rediscover their best form this season.
The duo have played almost 2,000 career games between them and their experience will be crucial with the team going through a transitional phase.
Predicting where the Blackhawks will finish this season is tough, particularly with Crawford’s status still unclear.
If he returns to the line-up healthy, the Blackhawks have one of the best netminders in the league. If he is unable to play, then Ward could be in for a few tough nights if the defence doesn’t perform well.
With the likes of Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets to contend with, Chicago have their work cut out in the Central Division.
However, they could snatch third place if everything falls into place, but they still look a long way short of the team that won three Stanley Cups from 2010 to 2015.