I have a bad case of dejavu. Is it just me, or did the Hawks win very similar games back-to-back in almost the exact same manner and in a way I have not seen them do very much throughout the year? Seriously, this is not the Blackhawks that I am familiar with this year, and it leaves me at a loss for words. Well, not really a loss.
First of all, I was wrong about this team in some important ways. I did not think they had the kind of play in them to dish out these types of hard, close, gritty, and organized wins. Someone must have wacked them all in the heads while they were asleep, because suddenly the whole team understands that by playing smart, positioned, defensive, and simple hockey, that their skill and talent level will come through . No, it will not lead to high scoring games like we have gotten used to, but it will lead to wins, and winning has become the pattern after setting a course for losersville only a week back.
I was also wrong about Crawford in a big way. I counted him down and out. I saw his pattern of play just too destructive to allow for a fix this late in the season. The performance given by Crawford yesterday was awe inspiring and sets a new tone in the Hawks overall play. In the last 4 games, Crow has only given up 5 goals. His positioning is back, his flow and movements with the puck are back, he is playing like the goaltender we remember from last year and boy does it make a difference. Sure, the first goal he let up last night was something he should have stopped, but that only speaks to his newly repaired mindset, in that he was able to bounce back in a big way.
This only tells a small part of the story that is emerging out of the last few games though. One of the big reasons why Crow is able to get his act together is because of the guys playing in front of him. The new defensive pairings seems to have brought some balance to the force. Their better positioning and quicker reaction time speaks volumes to that fact. The team defense has shifted dramatically. Forwards are finally realizing their roles and helping out, which is makeing the entire performance better. In the end, Crawford faced 29 shots, but it was the quality of shots that spoke the most to me. Crow made some tough saves, but he never had to make spectacular ones.
Having had the 300 level view last night, the part that stood out the most, or should I say player was Dylan Olsen. Playing just over 20 minutes of hockey, this kid showed everything as far skills go, and that he can play with the big boys while doing it. He was everywhere, always in the right place at the right time, a large body, executing what I saw to be the best defensive skills in the game, and added to the offense in important ways with 5 attempted shots on net. This kid must stay up with the Hawks, as I look to the implimentation of he and Lepisto as large contributors to what have seen in the past 4-5 games.
Noticing that this is becoming wordy, lets hit some points:
- I think I have said enough on how important defensive play has been, so lets move to offense.
- Hayes and Kruger are your obvious candidates for players of the game. Hayes recorded a goal and an assist, figuring in both of the only Hawk goals in big ways, and Kruger was the key to finishing off the game winner. Both were scored by going hard to the net, and Hayes is the answer for some of the Hawks grief in this category. Kruger has been on a mission to prove me wrong all year, as he does all the little things that become difference makers in games like these.
- But this was not all of the offense the Hawks provided in this game. Without the use of the dangerous stretch pass I have yelled about this year, the Hawks still managed to create 4 breakaway opportunities from smart neutral zone play. They waited for their opportunities and even created a few with their explosive skill.
- Kane was one of the main reasons for such offensive production. I could have strangled him for not taking the shot early in the game on a power-play, but his overall play was a difference maker in the light of not having the captain around to lead the way. Kane stepped his game up in a lot of ways, and showed just why he is one of the premier hockey players in the NHL. Now if we could only get him to keep it up consistently.
- I mentioned power-play just now, and boy is it ever suffering. They did however show some decent looks last night, entering the zone a little better with smarter transitions and neutral zone play, but they still have an isse with shooting and finding the holes. Better, closer, warmer, but still not there.
- Another giant negative was the amount of minutes that Keith logged. OVER 32 MINUTES! This will just not do. I am sure the absence of Toews played into this, but Olsen was good for more minutes, and so was Lepisto, and maybe it was a bad idea to play Scott then. Scott only logged somewhere in the 3 minute range, a waist of a player on the bench, even though he looked fine in his limited moments on the ice.
- I mentioned the breakaways generated by the Hawks. At least one of these has to go in, though it does not look like Frolik will ever break his scoring slump in Hawks jersey. Maybe he should ask Gomez how he did it. But, a large reason why they did not go in and the Hawks did not win this one 3 or 4 to 1, was the play of Howard. Maybe Detroit got lazy with him back in net, or maybe it was just time for the Wings to lose, either way, Howard kept it closer than it should have been.
These nail-biters can be hard to watch, but boy are they exciting. I felt like the game was twice as long as it was, and enjoyed every minute of it. the Hawks look newly improved, and I have to say I am scratching my head and also wondering a bit when the bottom will fall out again. If they continue this play that seems to have come out of nowhere, or maybe that was desperation, the Hawks look to be back into the mix of potentials in the playoffs.
For all my criticisms of Q, I have to give credit to the fact that this team finally looks like a team, and then ask what the heck they were waiting for. Word of advice, Hayes, Olsen, and Lepisto are keepers unless an unforseen trade comes along.