Was the performance by the Chicago Blackhawks so much better than others throughout the season? Not really. Was it better than what we have seen lately? Sure. There were maybe a few large differences from what I saw last night when compared to many other games, and not just the missing Patrick Sharp from the line-up. Namely, that the Hawks stood up for each other, made obvious attempts to protect the home a little more and play solid defense.
As you might have noticed, Stalberg had a pretty good game, and this tends to be a trend when playing the Jackets. Whatever you call it, Speedy now has 12 goals which is good enough for 4th on a team with a lot of talented goal-scorers. Even beyond Stalberg's consistency with scoring on the Jackets, the Hawks all around as a team seem to deliver a similar approach to their game against them. Always winning by 3, and usually paying more attention to their own zone.
The Hawks started this game off playing some really solid and smooth hockey if you ask me. The transition from the D to the forwards seemed much more efficient and this was due to the offense playing a little deeper in their zone. Ignoring the fact that it took the Hawks a while to get a shot on net, missing the net entirely on most attempts, getting out-shot 5-0 in the first 7 minutes or so, the Hawks looked good when they took the ice without Sharp. I got the sense that the Toews' line was going to be the key to success from the get-go.
Then, Toews leaves early after a puck connected with his head on its way to the post and you could feel the gasp of air that was sucked out of Hawks fans everywhere. Q was also obviously frazzled and jumbled to make sense of his lines after it. No need to fear, he made his return during a penalty kill later, after Hayes was sent to the box. Hayes actually had an impressive shift leading up to that call on him though.
The Hawks would have to kill 4 unanswered penalties before getting their own crack at one, and by the 4th you were getting the sense that a shorty might be necessary if the Hawks wanted a goal anytime soon. Ask and you shall receive. Just moment into the 4th PK, Hossa grinds his butt off to win a puck and eventually hit a bursting Bolland who was heading for the net, a sweat little move here and there, and the Hawks found themselves with a shorty and the first goal of the night. This was a huge moment, and credit goes to both players for skating extremely hard down the ice. The PK was a large factor in this game as there were many successful kills. Sorry to say the power-play continues to look terrible and is almost worth avoiding all together at this point.
Before the goal, Montador was assessed a 10 minute misconduct, including a 2 minute instigator, and another 2 minutes for instigating with a visor. He was brutally punished for standing up for his fellow teammates which is something we have all been asking for. Later in the game, Mayers would get a similar fate after attacking Boll (the same player Montador battled) for a high hit on Hjamler. Can we express enough how happy we are at seeing some retaliation handed out when players take offense to late or abusive hits? No, but do we also want to see the Hawks spending so much time in the box for instigators and misconducts?
I would rather see the Hawks get even with some legal hits. Don't have such short memories and make them pay later when the moment allows. Im sure there are those who disagree with me though, and the officiating might be worth some of the responsibility here. The Hawks can get beat-down all game, but when they dish it back, they sit in the box for 20 minutes.
Needless to say, the Hawks were more physical last night. They also tried to hunker down in their own end. Leddy was guilty of being present for 2 goals being scored in the slot again, but he seemed to be doing the right things at the time. Bad bounces and his absent teammates should be given more of the blame.
This brings me to my next point. The Hawks were better, but the forwards still need to spend more time deep in their own zone. On the first goal, Kaner was seen hovering around the blue-line covering no one, and thats just not going to cut it. The second goal could have been averted if a 3rd man had helped in front. Not sure who should have been there, but someone should have. Also, when the wingers were getting deeper in the early parts of the game, you could see it have a direct effect on the breakout. Things were much smoother as a result, and it was sort of lost later in the game. But enough harping.
The Hawks looked decent out there. Sure, it was against a struggling team with a brand new coach, but they still won some important battles, stood up for one another and scored 5 goals. Shaw was out there causing trouble with every shift, Smith grinded it out, broke the D and found himself a nifty goal, and yes, Stalberg looked like a confident goal-scorer. Now if he could only feel that way all of the time. I think that the first line should most likely be a permanent one. Things seem to work out nicely with those 3 guys together and Stalberg obviously needs consistency.
On a whole, I saw a team finally aware of their issues with respects to defense. If it continues, we might see the end of the plethora of goals being scored from the crease on Crow. The focus on defense did lower the shot totals, but I think when they find their groove here, both ends of the ice will benefit. This game was in no way the blow-out that the score suggests, but it was a good win.
And credit to Crawford for a good performance. He needed one where the goal total stayed below 3 against.
Im still going to throw it out there that Bolland is the 2nd line center everyone is looking for. He and Hossa seem to have something worth taking a look at. For the time being, Shaw looks good on the 3rd line, but I still suggest Pirri in that role first. Trades do seem necessary, but maybe not. The prospects seem pretty tough, and with the right "coaching" could do a lot of damage I think. With the right coaching.