Blackhawks thankful for home-heavy March schedule after nomadic February

The Hawks played 11 of 14 games in February on the road, but will now play 11 of 15 games in March at home.

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Home games have been rare for the Blackhawks over the past month and a half.

Home games have been rare for the Blackhawks over the past month and a half.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Coach Jeremy Colliton laughed when asked Monday what is the best part about being back at home.

“Should be your family, right?” he said with a grin. “Kids. Wife. Is that a trick question? I’m confused. Absolutely.”

Colliton finally has been reunited with his family, and his team will soon be reunited with the United Center, which has been their home arena in name only for the past month and a half.

The Hawks have played just three home games in the past 40 days while trudging through a February schedule with 11 road games, including separate five- and four-game road trips.

But in March, they’ll play 11 of 15 games at home, including two this week: the Ducks on Tuesday and the Oilers on Thursday. Better yet, they’ll never spend consecutive nights on the road all month.

That should help the team settle back into a rhythm.

“You’re in your hometown, you know where everything is, you have a ton of different options,” said Drake Caggiula, who added he’d never before experienced a month with that much travel at any level of hockey. “You’re not in a hotel. You have your family and your loved ones around you. You’re in your own locker room. It makes it way easier when you’re home.”

“Sometimes it’s nice to get on the road, because you have way less distractions, but when you’re gone for that long, it gets repetitive and boring.”

Sunday’s off day in Chicago and the relatively short practice Monday — the Hawks worked on defensive-zone coverage and breakouts for only about 40 minutes — indeed seemed to lift the group’s collective spirit.

Colliton was laughing about the “trick question,” Corey Crawford was smiling ear-to-ear about being back with his two-year-old son, Cooper, and Patrick Kane was making fun of Alex DeBrincat.

“It’s good to see my boy again, and my wife,” Crawford said. “It’s time for Daddy time now. That’s nice.”

“It’s nice not seeing DeBrincat every day,” Kane joked. “Having to go eat with him and hang out with him, so it’s nice to get away from a few hours.”

Kane also alluded to the return of faint playoff hopes, and statistics bear that out: The Hawks have upped their chances to a slim-but-not-impossible 10.4 percent (per Moneypuck) after closing February with consecutive wins.

The Hawks might be best served not taking those too seriously yet, but they will need to focus on improving their 13-13-4 home record, which ranks third-worst in the NHL by points percentage.

Caggiula identified stronger starts as one key to improvement.

“Sometimes we’ve been getting off to slow starts at home, and by the time we get going, it’s a little bit too late and we come up just a goal short,” he said. “If we can get off to a good start and get our fans into it right from the start, it goes a long way.”

Crawford’s continued stellar play in the net also could help.

Colliton said Monday he’d “have to really work to go back to find” a game where Crawford didn’t play up to par, as the Hawks’ now clear-cut No. 1 goaltender has allowed three or fewer goals in 14 of his last 15 starts.

“It’s more about reading the game and getting a feel for certain situations,” Crawford said. “I’m getting a little bit more patient. I’m not playing like it’s a rush to get saves and get into games.”

He won’t have to rush through his game-day routine now, either, with the Hawks finally back home.

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