Since the Blackhawks’ home opener Saturday the 11th, they’ve struggled to play a dominant 60 minutes of regulation hockey a game–a characteristic that could inevitably come back to bite them. With two wins and an overtime loss in their past three games, despite the advantage of a home crowd, it may be tough to call out the flaws. But the team can do better.
Between their continued very low Power Play performance and their lethargy or lacking chemistry, even in victory there’s room for great improvement. That’s what’s great about being four games into the season (game one in Dallas was a shootout winner.)
Barely Evading the Predators
“Sometimes when we’re locked in a tight game like that and it’s sloppy and ugly, we’ve just got to find ways to win,” Toews said. “It’s not always going to be perfect. It’s not always going to be exactly the way we want to play, but we’ve just got to grind it out and stay positive through [the whole game].”
But, his goal shouldn’t have been necessary. The team led the game in shots 37-20 and had five Power Plays to Nashville’s four.
The rest of regulation was a tradeoff of penalties and kills, leading to Toews’ salvaging goal.
Blackhawks burned by Flames
Despite barraging the Flames with shots 50-18, the Blackhawks couldn’t pull off a win against the Calgary team at their second home game last Wednesday.
Chicago had the offensive edge but Calgary’s defense showed up to play–with netminder Jonas Hiller saving 49 out of 50 and on-ice defensemen blocking plenty more.
Again, and without surprise, the Blackhawks were unable to capitalize on Power Plays–scoring just once in seven man-advantages. They were, however, able to hold their opponents scoreless in the single penalty kill. It was a fairly disciplined game aside from getting the puck in the net.
“Our best shots that we got, we probably had six or seven A-plus chances that [we] didn’t even get a shot on net,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We were looking for a better play, a missed shot, blocked [shot] or [we were] in too tight or missed the net. So, those were the ones that didn’t even add up on the score sheet as far as shots, but those were the quality chances that we missed.”
Daniel Carcillo missed a couple seemingly “gimme” shots, but he was not alone.
With about 8:05 left in the second period, Dennis Wideman took a faceoff pass from Joe Colborne and shot from the blue line through Crawford’s legs for the first goal of the game.
“Good ending,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. “That’s almost like a golf game. Our drive went in the woods, but we took a stroke and we found a way to [make] par.”
Home Sweet Home Opener
Despite the intensely motivating on-ice show leading up to the home opener (not to mention a deafening crowd), the Blackhawks’ first period on United Center ice ended in a draw with the Buffalo Sabres.
Less than a minute after puck-drop, Shaw deflected into the net a blue line shot from Hjalmarsson fed by Saad.
“Playing with those two guys, you know they’re going to make plays,” Shaw said. “I try to go to the dirty areas and get them the puck and go to the net. They seem to make a lot of things happen.”
Duncan Keith snatched a Buffalo clear attempt before it left the zone, slapping it down the center up and over goalie Jhonas Enroth‘s glove to give the the Hawks a two-goal lead less than two minutes later.
The second period was relatively uneventful–with the Hawks narrowly leading the Sabres in shots 11-9.
“Our [first 40 minutes] tonight wasn’t bad,” Quenneville said. “Just because it was 2-2, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t as complete as we’d like. I think across the board we were 100 percent better than we were [in Dallas] the other day. [This] put us back on the right track.”
But, in the third, Chicago showed the kind of hockey the team is capable of playing, scoring four unanswered goals for a 6-2 final.
- Kane, with his family in attendance, sent a one-timer top shelf on Enroth with a nice setup by Shaw and Saad nearly six minutes into the period.
- Marian Hossa came through next, making a shorthanded goal look easy after carrying the puck up the ice unscathed and shooting from the hashmarks (assisting, Toews and Brent Seabrook.)
- Next came a Power Play goal (Chicago was one for four) by Sharp with 6:44 left in the game. After being fed by Toews and Kane to the middle of the blue line, Sharp drew back and blasted the puck into the back of the net.
- Finally, Carcillo made up for a bad interference penalty late in the game by finding Saad at center ice then camping out at the net just in time to bank the puck in with about 2:30 left in the game.
Enroth made 41 saves out of 47. Crawford stopped 21 out of 23.
This game should be a model for Chicago as the team moves forward. Though not everyone has perfect chemistry together yet, they found a way to work together and produce. They minimized time in the box and had their best yet percentage of Power Play goals–though that needs some serious work. They played hockey for a full 60 minutes, preventing extra time on the ice and guaranteeing a win.
They’ll need this kind of action as they take on the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday then hit the road again Thursday.