In November it was the elephants and clowns taking over the United Center, now the Disney on Ice show takes center stage. This puts the Bulls and the Blackhawks on the road for a couple of weeks. During the "Circus" road trip the Bulls went 2-3, while most of the Hawks were still wondering if they would have a season.
The Blackhawks are on fire as they begin the shortened season with a 6-0-0 start, the best in team history. They hope is their energy and play won't cool off with the extended trip starting in Minnesota tonight, but the team is 4-0 on the road to start the season. No one is complaining about fatigue at this point, which is incredible considering they had no lengthy training camp and pre-season game schedule.
Here is what needs to happen for the road warriors:
-The penalty killing has been one of their best weapons; they killed six on Sunday against Detroit. It was one of the team weaknesses the past two seasons. This year they are the second best in the league, having given up just one power play goal so far.
-Corey Crawford in goal, the young goaltender has looked good after the first week in action. The team hopes he has matured into the job. He earned league honors for his play; Crawford posted five of the wins, 1.78 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. Admitting he had an up and down year last season, Crawford said he figured it out: "You have to every night give your guys a chance, I am paying more attention to that."
-It is difficult to just point out any other players, since you look throughout the different lines and see great contributions. There is a nice development with Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik after they accepted their roles on special teams.
-Racking up the wins is important with a 48-game season, they will not go undefeated, but it really feels there is a sense of urgency to posting the W's.
During the Michael Jordan era, the Bulls were monsters on the road. For those teams it was like playing at home since it was a pro-Bulls, well actually, pro-Michael crowds in most arenas.
This season the Bulls have fared well away from the United Center, they hope last Saturday’s loss to the Wizards in Washington was a hiccup and not a long range concern.
Tom Thibodeau’s team will play ten of their next twelve games on the road, sandwiched in between are home games with Miami and San Antonio.
Here is what they need to do:
-Don’t play down to their opponents, after a huge home win against Golden State on Friday they got tripped up in D.C. They begin with Milwaukee tonight, and the Bucks have beaten the Bulls twice at the United Center.
-Tough weekend, they travel to Brooklyn and Atlanta back to back. These will be a good test with these clubs. The Nets feel Joakim Noah’s place on the All-Star team should have gone to Brooklyn Center Brooks Lopez. Atlanta will be looking for revenge. Just two weeks ago, the Bulls held them to 58 points, 5 in the second quarter, in the 97-58 final.
-Health will be a key, Luol Deng has returned from his hamstring injury, and Richard Hamilton is still limited with his foot problems.
-One nice dilemma for Coach Thibodeau is getting the minutes for his second year player Jimmy Butler after his success filling in for Deng. He is athletic, can defend and is full of energy- a nice commodity to have to come off the bench.
-As the days go by and the information is scarce, Derrick Rose continues to work out behind the curtain at the Berto. He has started working fully in practices. It will be interesting on the road in a non-controlling environment if the team will be able to shield what the Bulls guard is up to--especially in New York.
-When I asked All-Star Joakim Noah why this team has played so well on the road, he said with a wry smile, “We cherish the villain role.” Since they are leaving because of a Disney ice show, I asked what villain he was, “Captain Hook,” he said.
This Bulls team feels pretty good right now and when Rose comes back, expectations will go through the roof.