As I mentioned in my little ditty last night before crashing into a bed only to awake unable to use a single muscle, the Hawks and Habs were making for a very boring lack-luster performance through the first half of play. You could count the amount of shots on your fingers and that was combined. Has there been enough said about the Chicago Blackhawks level of compete against teams they really don't care much about. An Eastern team, and this will be the only time we see them, The Habs are a quick bunch, but not really having all that much luck this year. The Hawks were completely happy to sit back and play a little non-physical puck, and rely on their superior talent to get them through it.
Lucky for them, the score was 5-1 at the end of 60.
Lets start with things that had me scratching my head at the drop of the puck, and then move into some other points. Now, I should preface that many of the things that had me scratching ended up working out, but it still suggests a little conversation.
- Where was the logic in putting Stalberg with Bolland and Bickell on the 3rd line, besides that it was the only place Stals hadn't played this year? Stalberg showed in the Pens game that he was a rightful owner of that 1st line spot, and how had Bickell earned 3rd-line ice over Fro? Yes, Bickell and Stalberg ended up being the highlights of the game, as it seemed that Speedy Swedish provided a much needed burst to that lines scoring ability, but was it the right move, and is it best to stay with?
- Now I want take a look at Speedy Swedish vs Slow-moving Canadian. It would seem that Stals and Bruno were the 2 choices to play next to Kane and Toews, and both of them are completely different players. Should we not now which player fits best there at this point? Stalberg is fast, has a really efficient back-check and can rush up the ice along with the twin-superstars. This allows for a little more creativity out of Kane, and more support for Toews entering into the zone. Plus, Stalberg has a talent for winning rushes to dump-ins. Brunette, on the other hand, has an amazing ability to play in front of the net, and dig pucks out of the corner, or along the boards. He offers defensive stability with strong positioning in his own zone. Oh, and he has a knack for putting pucks in the net when he shoots. Stalberg has taken almost twice as many shots with less ice-time, but is behind a goal in production. (Okay, this is already a little long winded, but Im not done yet) What Q should be looking for is a player that either adds to the abilities of Kane and Toews or someone who balances those abilities. Toews and Kane are both pretty darn good along the boards and in corners (Toews is exceptional here). Kane has gotten better at back-checking, but I still think he would be happier not doing it. Toews is great at it. Toews is good in front of the net, but his board play is where I would rather have him. Maybe you see my rambling logic at this point, and maybe you don't. I guess it just comes down to who we would rather see in that spot on the top line. Where will we get the most out of player's skills?
- Pirri was called up in place of Kruger. What did you think? I saw something in Pirri that I just don't see Kruger getting, even though Kruger was probably more productive in his recent games in that center spot than Pirri was last night. Pirri seems more inclined to win draws, score goals and carries himself like a bigger player, something we need. It would be my opinion that Pirri is the right player to be grooming for that spot heading into the playoffs, and I say that completely acknowledging the great play of Kruger in the past 15 or so games.
- Jeremy Morin's turn. I sort of called for his return a week or so ago. I had expected to see something worth keeping around, and in Bickell's place actually. He didn't give us too much to talk about, but I still like what I see in him. If he was bigger, I would look at it like a no-brainer, but he is not. I think he needs more time up with the big guys, but don't anticipate seeing much of him in the near future. Mainly because Bickell finally showed up to play hockey, and Carcillo will get better eventually.
- Crawford had a nice return to the show. Still severely lacking in his rebound control, but looking much more comfortable in his net. It looked like Crow might have kicked whatever bugs were keeping him from being that steady, positioned and smart goaltender that we had all come to love. The only goal against him was a tip, so it would suggest he was seeing the puck much better too, good enough to make a spectacular save with his stick in the air anyway. Q might have some hard choices after we get back from break.
- Back to Speedy Swedish for a moment. I hope that this is the last we see of him on the 4th line. I have a hunch that he is good for 20 goals this year.
- The PK is still a slight concern, along with the PP. Actually, I was wondering if the PK might be a good fit for Stalberg who might be able to surprise the other side with his quick feet. The PP's concerns are in entering the zone, and in large part because other teams are wise to these issues for the Hawks.
- Sharp continues to be a spark-plug for the offense. He has the magic touch, and he knows it. I really like the efforts and chances he is taking. His game-winner was a beauty.
- What are we going to do about Frolik? He just can't seem to get it going, and then he takes a really bad penalty at a still pivotal point in the game.
- I continue to celebrate Leddy's contributions to the team.
- Keith is officially back to old form if you ask me.
The Hawks showed their tendency to get lazy last night, but blew past the Habs in the end. Strong board play by Brunette, Kane, and Toews helped cause the first goal. That spark in Sharp and a well positioned Pirri helped the second one just seconds later. Scoring 2 goals 20 seconds apart is a good way to win a game. Later in the 3rd, Bickell of all people pretty much single handedly caused a goal by beating every Habs player to the puck after one of his many shots from 50 feet out. He worked hard last night, and it eventually paid off in the form of a goal and assist. Maybe he likes Stalberg and this can be the spark he was looking for.
It is always good when Toews finds the back of the net, getting back to the top of NHL goal scorers for this year. Stalberg would probably be my player of the game. His presence ignited the 3rd lines scoring abilities, which is something that was much needed. Now let us break with the Hawks in a darn good place in the standings. If you celebrate it, happy Christmahanakwanzika! Your Chicago Blackhawks are in first place. Ignore the fact that they have plenty of games in hand of a few other teams.