Unlike the past, the Blackhawks start a new season as the ‘underdogs’

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: Chicago Blackhawks Joel Quenneville in the second period during a game between the Ottawa Senators and the Chicago Blackhawks on September 27, 2018, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – There have been times in his career where the team he represents has been in this position. It’s just been a little while.

Since the 2009-2010 season, the Blackhawks have usually been a popular pick among fans to win the Stanley Cup. They’ve pulled it off three times in that stretch, and up till last year made the playoffs every season.

But in Patrick Kane’s 11th year with the franchise, they didn’t make it. A disappointing season saw his goals decrease by seven from the previous year, and the Blackhawks’ playoff hopes all but end in early March. Hence in 2018-2019, the team is flying under the national radar as few are predicting the big years for the Blackhawks in the past.

“I think we all know in here that no one is really picking us to either do well or be a playoff team or win the division,” said Kane as the team prepared for their opener Thursday night against the Senators in Ottawa.

Translation: The Blackhawks are taking on the unfamiliar role of underdogs this season –  which they haven’t been since his rookie year in 2007-2008, when a young team nearly made a surprise run for the playoffs.

“A little bit of a chip on our shoulders,” admitted Kane of the low outside expectations for 2018-2019. “But that’s all kind of external to us. We can only worry about what’s inside this locker room and the internal make of this team so we can focus on what we can control. We can’t control what people say or what they think or who they’re going to pick.

“But we can go on the ice and play.”

That’s what they’ll do often to start the season, opening up with three games in four nights. They’ll face the Senators on the road Thursday before a trip to St. Louis for a contest against the Blues on Saturday. Then it’s right back to the United Center for the home opener against Toronto.

Familiar faces like Kane, captain Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook are back. Rising star Alex DeBrincat along with Nick Schmaltz hope to continue their progress, while a rookie like defenseman Henri Jokihauju wants to make his immediate impact on the franchise.

Corey Crawford won’t do that as his continued recovery from a concussion will last until at least the middle of October. Veteran Cam Ward gets his first start in a Blackhawks uniform in his place.

Outside expectations for that group might be down, but it’s not for head coach Joel Quenneville. Following his first season without a postseason berth, the pressure is on no matter what the prognosticators say.

“You’re in a winning business here. You’re trying to win, do whatever you can to get the guys best prepared and I think that’s what we can control and that’s what we try to do,” said Quenneville. “Last year was something we didn’t experience before and we don’t want to get there again, as players and especially as coaches.”

Like playing the underdog role at least to start the 2018-2019 campaign.

“I don’t want to say it’s cool to be in that position, but it’s going to be nice to be in an underdog role and hopefully prove some people wrong,” said Kane – who will get his first chance to do so on Thursday.