PRAGUE – In the second half of last season, they looked like the team which the Blackhawks’ front office might have hoped when they switched coaches in early November.
Far out of the playoff conversation on January 1st, Jeremy Colliton got his team to make a spirited run in the winter months. From January 20th till the end of the season, they went 20-10-3, and even cracked into the playoff in the last Wild Card spot in the Western Conference for a brief time in February.
But they couldn’t hold onto it and were on the outside looking into the playoffs for a second-straight season.
For a franchise that won three Stanley Cups this decade, that’s not something that was taken lightly, and the team made a number of moves to bolster the roster before the season.
Colliton’s had the chance to work with them over the last month, and he’ll put his team on the ice for the first time this regular season a little bit farther from home than usual. For the first time since the 2009-2010 season, the Blackhawks are opening their season outside North America, facing the Flyers at O2 Arena in Prague on Friday at 1 PM Chicago time.
It will be the first game in which fans get to see this new roster, which got a healthy shake-up this offseason, in action during a game that counts. Andrew Shaw returns to the team for the first time since the 2015-2016 season after enjoying his highest scoring output of his career (47 points) last season in Montreal.
New acquisitions Ryan Carpenter, Zack Smith, Alexander Nylander and Dominik Kubalik join Shaw in fitting in with the team’s mainstays in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Brandon Saad.
Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta join the defensive group while Robin Lehner, a Vezina finalist last season, joins Corey Crawford in competing for time in goal.
Colliton, who begins his first full season with the Blackhawks, now has the job of getting them all to work together. Maybe the long trip to Europe will help that, as the team hopes to put two unsuccessful seasons behind them.