Now that was some well balanced puck. In what can only be described as an all around effort, and well maintained game, the Chicago Blackhhawks cruised into a 3-1 win over the Florida Pantherhawks on a stormy winter night. Im sure most everyone was wishing this game was played in Florida, where the weather would not have held the start time back, but it is what it is. Could we pass off some of the Panthers play to the trip in and consequent later start than anticipated, maybe. But, the routine for all the players was thrown off a tad, including the Hawks. No, I am more concerned with tonights effort against a rallying Nashville team after that later start in the U.C.
The Hawks jumped out to an early first period lead, which culminated in a very late period goal by Duncan Keith, and a power-play goal at that. A simple play to the point, with the screen in front and Keith drove the puck home untouched on its way in. This goal was a gleaming example of how simple, and balanced hockey can pay off. Late period and early period goals can have large impacts on game outcomes, and this one seemed to end the night for the Panthers who came in with some struggles in their recent past.
But, the return of a few ex-Hawks to Chicago served as maybe enough juice to make you worry about a Panther come-back which never really ended up surfacing. In fact, due to the later start there was a decent amount of talk about Brian Campbell rolling into this game, and of the damage he could do. I honestly forgot he was even out there sometimes, and his efforts to move the puck were often crashed in on by the Hawks who were unwilling to give the fancy footed defenseman any space. Of the ex-Hawks, Versteeg was the only one making any kind of a campaign to make something happen, but again that campaign was ended abruptly by the Hawks.
In period 2, the Hawks would push that lead up to 3-0 when Patrick Kane finally decided to shoot the puck, and on net (not aiming for the top corners and missing the net entirely) when he had the option to pass. I think Theodore was totally expecting the pass and wasn't even able to move that much before the puck was between his 5-hole. Does this mean the end to the scoring slump Kane has put together over the past 20 or so games? In my opinion it takes 2 within a game of each other to break the curse, and my sources say that just might happen as Kane has been known to score some goals against the Preds. Besides that goal, we saw a little too much of the same from Kaner. Such as, holding on too long, not displaying a great sense of urgency, and making that extra move when it was unnecessary. I can be hard on Kane sometimes, but I do believe he possesses an unparalleled talent with the puck and have also stood by him during other questionable times in his short career. If he wants to see more production, he has to simplify his game a bit, pure and simple. This analysis takes nothing away from the great work he creates in opposing zones.
- The Panthers made the game look slightly interesting in the early seconds of the 3rd period. Like I said, early and late period goals can be huge, but in this case it amounted to nothing. With all the talk around number 51, it seemed that people forgot that number 52 for the Panthers is the leading goal scorer among defensemen in the league.
- It didn't end up mattering too much as the Hawks gave what might be their best defensive effort as a team in a very long time. The improvements keep coming in this area. Huh, shocker that we haven't seen Scott in a while. This new found confidence on the D is truly something to celebrate, but I can't help feeling frustrated that it seems to be the result of finally doing simple things that we have been asking of the coaching all season. Why did it take so long to listen to reason?
- Among those simple things we have been asking for here at PowWow, is balanced ice-time and the rolling of 4 lines. Q even made mention of its importance in the pre-game interview. If I could have, I would have punched him right in the face. Yeah, no shit Sherlock, so what took you so damn long? Injuries to 2 top line wingers? This is seriously a duh moment for this administration. And yes, this is playing a dramatically huge role in what we are recently seeing from the Hawks of late. Brunette even got into the scoring last night, but that goal was incorrectly waived off as I continue to have doubts that this Toronto reply system even exists.
- Yes, the ice-time that each individual player logs from game to game can have large impacts in those games, and even larger on the season as a whole. While this has increasingly improved over the last few weeks, it is also an area of concern with regards to one player last night. Keith was on his game, no question about it, and his balanced minutes have helped him get there. But, he logged just under 30 minutes last night and I have to question that single mistake by Q. If the Hawks had no games following the next night, it would be meaningless, but they do, and it is against the Preds who are shooting up the standings as if only to make things in the Central Division even more interesting. Tonight's game is the more important win of the 2, and Keith skated too much last night. Just a critique on an otherwise fairly perfect game.
- Speaking of Keith, his goal was in fact another power-play goal as the Hawks look to clean up all their messes before the Allstar break. Can't talk enough to the simplicity of how the Hawks are generating these recent PP goals, but I will let out my breath when I see it continue into the next few months. If Kane really does regain his mojo, it just might be that killer punch that opens the flood-gates on the man-advantage.
- Killer Instinct: Okay, here is maybe my only other negative critique on last night's game besides the Keith ice-time thing. The Hawks have looked pretty balanced lately, and last night was no different, but I did lack the sense of an emotional attachment from the Hawks. There didn't seem to be a killer instinct to really take advantage of the game and put the game completely out of the reach of the Panthers. This could have something to do with today's contest which holds more value to the Hawks, but a critique it still is. And again, the defense was sound enough to hold the lead without too much worry which is a good sign in the larger scheme of things.
- Emery is pretty darn solid looking in net. His consistent play has me calling for his continued starts. It might be slight, but he has the upper-hand on Crawford and the coaching staff should react accordingly.
- Last point before moving on. The 1st line of Kane, Toews, and Stalberg is a beast of a line and I want to send a message to Q that if it ever gets changed that I will hunt him down and punch him right in the stache. This line is simply becoming the hardest line to play against in the league. Every cog in this machinery of a line is finding its perfect function and executing without hesitation. Great passing, quick movement, and the defensive sense to get the puck out of their own zone as soon as the puck enters it is just the start of the poetry this line is weaving and will continue to get better at weaving. 2 brilliant looking goals were scored last night by this dynamic trio, as Toews continues to make his campaign for the MVP of the season. His breakaway goal was beautiful, and the pass from Kane just as awesome, which was started by a great effort from Stalberg. Machine I say!
Good game, the much needed 2 points were achieved and now we must quickly get over that giddiness as we look to the game ready to start in just a few hours.
Since late December, the Predators have allowed only 20 goals in a 9-2-0 run. Rinne is really freaking good lately, which is just about as scary as anything, and the offense is even producing more than 3 goals a game. If not anything else, this serves as proof once again to how tough this Central Division really is. A Nashville win could make things very, very interesting in the Central, as if it already isn't enough, and the Hawks play them twice in a row before the break. These are huge points with large implications. Do we go into the break on top, or with a sudden drop to the lower half? It is seriously go-time for the Hawks. Detroit plays Columbus tonight, and the Blues play the Sabres, which makes matters even worse. This is going to be a photo finish down to the end, and it involves 4 teams right now.