After some trying times since the start of the season more than two months ago, the Blackhawks are feeling good about where they are and where they are going.
Coming off solid all-around performances in wins over Los Angeles and Detroit, this might be the best the Hawks have felt about themselves all season.
Of course, they're only two games removed from back-to-back losses to Colorado, but captain Jonathan Toews can feel an air of confidence starting to build in the dressing room and on the ice.
"It's about setting that trend and setting that standard for the way we're expected to play and what we're expected to do ever single night," Toews said. "Obviously the leaders and the guys who have been here for a while have that experience of being on a winning team and going to the playoffs and playing in some tough games against the best teams. Those are the most fun moments to play in when it's really competitive, and you're never going to win in a situation like that if not everyone is doing the right thing."
The Hawks are 10-5-1 going back to Nov. 14, with those 2 losses to Colorado and the 7-2 blowout loss at Calgary last month the only real blips during that stretch.
First-year players such as goalie Corey Crawford and wingers Bryan Bickell and Jack Skille have become key contributors, which had to happen in order for the transition to work from last year to now.
This is not the same team that won the Stanley Cup. Everyone should understand that by now, but the Hawks still have all the pieces to be a serious contender in the Western Conference.
"That's the culture and the motive we're trying to set and instill in this locker room," Toews said. "It hasn't been an easy first half or first 35 games for anybody. There's going to be some tough moments still along the way, and if we can keep battling through them knowing what we can do as a team, we'll be just fine."
Babcock's insight: Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is a big believer in the Stanley Cup hangover.
In fact, listening to Babcock discuss it last Friday at the United Center pretty much described what has happened to the Hawks since they won the Cup last June.
"Obviously, any time you've won the Cup you're an elite team and you have elite players on your team," Babcock said. "As much as you'd like to train all summer long, the summer is very short. You come back and often what happens is your team comes back and you end up being injured all the time. Whether that's fatigue, whether that's from lack of training, or if everybody's gunning for you every time they play you, it's just a grind."
And then there is the salary cap issue on top of it all.
"When you add that to the cap world, the biggest thing about having a Cup team is everybody plays hard and achieves and then everyone costs twice as much money," Babcock said. "The more you win, the more money you cost, and then the less players you have. It's simple. You only have so much money to go around and your best players get it."
More Chelios: The Heritage Night for Chris Chelios last Friday certainly struck a nerve with a segment of Hawks fans who can't forgive the defenseman for bolting for the Red Wings in 1999 -- after he said he would never play for Detroit.
It's curious how Chelios is held in such contempt by certain Hawks fans while Bobby Hull is adored and cheered wildly every time he shows up at the UC as a team ambassador.
Didn't Hull leave the Hawks to play for Winnipeg in the World Hockey Association after the 1971-72 season?
Hull left because of money dispute with the Wirtz family. So did Chelios. Explain to me the difference.
Morin on loan: As expected, the Hawks released rookie winger Jeremy Morin from his duties in Rockford to go play for the U.S. in the World Junior Championships. The tournament runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Buffalo.