Maybe the most vocal Blackhawk following the recent poor performances by the team has been Johnathan Toews. Not happy with himself or his team's compete level, Captain Serious made no excuses and said things straight. The team needed to be better in all areas of play.
In all fairness to Toews, he has had an ever changing pair of wings this year and some have argued for a reuniting with Hossa, who could take some of the defensive pressure off of Toews. Those cries were obviously heard and we saw a 1st line consisting of Toews, Stalberg, and Hossa. Whether or not it was this change, or the drive of this captain to succeed, Toews was the best player on the ice and he pushed his team to a 1st period lead scoring 2 goals.
Also a change in this game was the loss of Bolland to an injured ankle. Kruger took his place as 3rd line center, and back in the action was Bickell. The 2nd line consisted of Kane, Sharp, Carcillo and I think we saw a pretty stable performance. Sharp and Kane have more chemistry than Toews and Sharp. Kane is a natural passer, with Sharp the natural shooter. This tends to work out well. Unfortunately, something that did not change was that John Scott was in the line-up again, although he did look as good as he ever has.
The Hawks came out strong in this one, needing to establish the flow early, taking away any thought that the Jackets could win from the get-go. The game was however closer to going in the Jackets favor than it may have appeared. The Hawks were much better tonight, but this game was far from perfect.
Things that looked better:
- Montador had the Gordie Howe Hat-trick. Scoring his first goal as a Hawk and on the PP mind you, also setting up a goal on the PP and got into an early scrap to boot. His performance tonight was obviously an inspired one. Nice to see, but I am still not convinced.
- The Power-Play scored 2 goals! This would cause many to feel that things are finally coming together, but then you realize who was out on the ice for the goals. The unlikely grouping of Montador, Brunette, and Kruger? Both goals were from the slot, and most notably, one was caused after a drive to the net. Something Toews has had success with in the past.
- Leddy had a decent game as well, in fact all of the D finally got involved in the offense. The D was very active tonight. Leddy's rushes were a key part to the game, and so was Hjalmer's defensive action. What do ya know, Leddy and Keith was not a good idea afterall.
- Quick passes and quick feet. The way the Hawks established the play was from playing their game, and playing it well. I also give much of this credit to the speedy first line. Man is that a quick group of players. Hossa, Toews, and Stalberg can all keep up with each other, and it was an obvious jolt to everyone of their games. This line deserves a good long look. By the nights end, each one left with a +3 on the night. I was even surprised by the apparent chemistry between Stals and Hossa.
- Kane scored on a breakaway, and it came from a nice stretch pass from Carcillo. I also thought Sharp looked a little more normal tonight, finding comfort with his old pal Kaner.
- Q rolled 4 lines tonight. Sure, the score helped, but the importance of this is priceless, especially with the intense schedule right now.
However, as I mentioned, this game was far from perfect. Namely, the PK is still looking a little rough around the edges. It only took the Jackets 12 seconds to score on one PP, and that was not the only power-play goal for Columbus on the night. The Hawks allowed 14 shots during the PK, and Crawford was the main reason against more PP production by the Jackets. Crawford made a few stellar saves, looking to close any questions about his play.
And, even though the Hawks scored on the PP, it wasn't exactly what we were looking for. The special teams can easily end up being the difference between 10 points or so by the end of the season, and will be of even higher importance by playoff time. We saw production from an unlikely bunch tonight, and not from the core power-play guys.
Another game tomorrow night against a team looking to get themselves going in Calgary. Much better performance tonight, but still short of what we all expect from this team. Glad to see them get the win against a team they should beat. Here's to continued improvement and success tomorrow night, leading to an ease in everyones early frustrations.