Blackhawks start lengthy western road trip in Calgary

The Blackhawks departed today on a 12-day, six-city road trip that will see them visit six of the seven Pacific conference teams before the Olympic break.

It's their annual "Disney on Ice" late January/early February western road swing, but this year, it has a little extra importance. The Olympics start less than two weeks from now, and the Blackhawks won't play in their own building again until March.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, their play has been like a roller coaster lately - solid wins versus the Bruins and Ducks; and less-than-perfect games against teams like the Jets, Red Wings, and Minnesota.

Is it perhaps the midwinter doldrums? Do the Blackhawks simply "get up" to their best levels versus the top teams, while thinking they can step off the gas when they have a lead versus the teams that are bobbing in and out of the playoff picture?

It's been said before - this year, and seasons past - that other teams don't take nights off against the Blackhawks. Chicago has become a measuring stick in the league, the kind of team that other teams want to prove they can beat.

This was illustrated well in Sunday night's game versus Winnipeg: the Blackhawks played the stronger game for the first 40 minutes, and jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the opening minutes of the game. Al Montoya was rock-solid for the Jets, denying Chicago all but one goal for two periods. Then in the third, things turned around - the Jets set up camp in the Blackhawks' end, and had three unanswered goals to win the game.

"We just threw away another two points," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after the game, his frustrations bubbling just under the surface. "Nothing good to say about the finish of that game."

One has to think that the team's recent performance, and the points left on the table, will be weighing on the players' minds as they head out on the long Western swing. These lengthy road trips give the players a chance to bond, and for whatever reason, the Blackhawks often simplify their play on the road. They went 6-1-0 on the November circus trip, the sole loss coming against the surging Avalanche.

The Blackhawks will open the road trip versus the Calgary Flames (18-27-7), who are 13th overall in the Western conference. So far, Chicago is 1-0-1 versus Calgary. The Flames have won their last two games, versus Phoenix (3-2) and Nashville (5-4, SO).

Just in time for the road trip, the Blackhawks have recalled center Brandon Pirri from the Rockford IceHogs. Pirri had recently returned to AHL play after a lower-body injury that had him sidelined over the holidays. It is likely there will be some line shuffling over what has been seen in the past couple games, and Michal Handzus may sit out some games as a result.

Reto Berra (6-14-2, .895 sv%, 3.08 GAA) is expected to start for Calgary; Corey Crawford (19-8-8, .910 sv%, 2.47 GAA) will be in net for the Blackhawks.