The Blackhawks are winning more than just games.

The Blackhawks are winning more than just games.

Realizing that I forgot my notes, this post will now reflect a basic overview of last night's game against the Canucks, rather than a detailed review, and will also serve to consider thoughts about the Hawks in the big picture sense. For starters, you have to be happy about the result, or results for that matter of last night, and the 10 or so games prior. Without captain Toews carrying the team on his back, others have stepped up, and we saw a more complete game out of the Hawks. It was not all moments of glory, but the Hawks battled it out and eventually took the points up for grabs.

To quote VegasHawksFan, " I find it interesting that when guys like Sharp or Toews are out for an extended period, we start to see this team actually play a simpler and harder working game." This was from before last night's game, reffering to the win against the Blue Jackets.

This, and other thoughts that stem from this logic was the focus of my attempts to justify the type of hockey that I have seen from the Blackhawks in recent weeks, as they fought and won against a very formittable opponent.

The Canuck's game went something like this: Vancouver came out hard, and the Hawks tried to match it early. I doubted the ability of the Hawks to do just that for a brief moment, but then the tables turned, the Hawks found their stride and began to frustrate the Nucks into a great many penalties. So many penalties in fact, that the Hawks should have outright won this game within the 2nd period, no excuses, Vancouver was not worthy of a point last night, and penalties are why.

Unfortunately, we saw a rare occassion where Luongo was on his game in the UC. Some of the power-play opportunities were worthless by the Hawks, but they had enough looks, and great scoring opportunities that forced Luo to make the types of saves he is known for when playing to his abilities.

The Canucks pretty much played the entire 2nd period short-handed. This, along with the fact that the Hawks were playing hard, fighting to win battles, playing an all around aggressive game, and seemed to have their stride through the neutral zone, had me guessing that the Nucks would be worn out by the 3rd and eventually fall to the Hawks. I was wrong, as the Nucks had the upper hand through the 3rd, and the Hawks had to call on Crawford to be big. The Hawks almost blew this one, and we have Crawford to thank for that not happening.

It was OT where I saw the play I had anticipated for the 3rd. The Hawks started to fly high again, and Vancouver seemed content with their 1 point. Still, Crow was called on to make one big save that created the rush up the ice and game winning goal. Once again, we have Shaw to thank for doing what he does so darn well. The Crawford save, Bolland's smart rush up the ice, Oduya's commitment to following it, and Shaw's nature of getting in goaltender's (or anyone's) way equated into a Hawks win.

It was mentioned in yesterday's post, during the game last night, and I have to mention it again; the Hawks are 9-1-1 since acquiring Oduya. But, it is Kaner who I would like to focus on for a second.

Lets recap really quick: The Hawks blew it on the man-advantage, however, they did have a couple impressive kills. They fought hard for most of the game, played aggressive hockey, smart hockey, won the battles early, and eventually won backed by solid goaltending and the little things that matter.

So, what gives? Why is it that the Hawks are looking much more like the team we had hoped to see all year, and that it comes at the loss of their captain? Did the orders from the coaches suddenly change, or the practices, or maybe the team was just sick for the majority of the year? Yes, Oduya has been a huge factor, and Shaw going to the net is big, but I see something larger at play here.

Patrick Kane has been playing his best hockey, maybe of his career since Toews' departure from the line-up. The answer to this sudden burst in production can be found in the quote I have above made by Vegas. Without Toews, others knew that they had to step it up, and this is part of it. The team has made a larger commitment to team defense, and winning small battles. The addition of Oduya has helped the team settle down and smooth out their transition game. This, and their newly found team defense has lended itself to better neutral zone movement, and this is where the golden star is. Quite simply, the Hawks win and lose games based on their nuetral zone play. All these little things changing have helped their transition through the neutral zone in great ways. The neutral zone is where Kane and a few other Hawks shine.

Since the team is moving through the center of the ice as a unit, they are entering the offensive zone as one, opening up just enough room for Kane to shine and dazzle opponents. Now, he has his mojo back, Toews is out so he knows he has to step it up, he is feeling it and playing with a new fire. Sharp has become Mr. Serious, also trying to fill the gap left by their captain.

All of this points to some major issues throughout last year and the better part of this one. And yes, I look at coaching in large ways for allowing the division in the player's roles to occur, and in allowing players to get lazy. Why work when Toews does it for you? But, the Hawks are working things out now.

Sidney Crosby has recently re-joined the Pens. As a result, they represent the largest threat to winning the Cup at this moment IMO. This is the perfect part of the season to gain this kind of momentum. The Hawks can have the same thing. The condition of Toews is confusing, and we know nothing of his return. But, if he does return, I think we just might see a Pens - Hawks Cup Final.

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  • Good analysis HH, but you avoided the obvious here and that is Dunc Keith and his impending suspension for the cheap shot to Sedin. We all know Keith is not that kind of player but nonetheless he's going to get hammered by Shanahan today. I'd say 3-5 games. Likely 3 games. Sedin—for his head shot to Keith earlier—should be suspended but likely won't because he was a) injured last night and b) because that's not his game either. Maybe 1 game. We'll see.

    Keith's suspension could be a silver lining and give him the much needed rest many feel he needs as the 'hawks roll on into the playoffs.

    As for the game, I had to watch it without sound in a family restaurant for 2 1/2 periods so didn't get a real good grasp of what was going on. I went home and watched again in its entirety with sound. Needless to say, it was a spirited affair with all the usual suspects on the Canucks trying to show how tough they are. No love loss here that's for sure.

    Kruger was a no show for the third period and that could be trouble, and I never did hear why Mayers was out. Canadian broadcast?

    Overall a gutsy effort and Crawford bailed them a couple of times in the third as the Canucks realized the 'hawks were running on fumes, and another ROW which will be important in the event a tiebreaker is needed at season's end.

    The 'hawks are beating some real good teams in a real tough time of the schedule and that is most encouraging.

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    FF,

    Mayers was out with the flu, and you're right it wasn't mentioned on the TSN feed. I found out via another blog.

    BW

  • While it's great to see some other core players step up, I have to wonder a bit what's going to happen when and if Toews returns. I could see it being a matter of other players hanging back to let Toews do it all, but maybe some of it also has to do with Toews trying to do too much. Kane started at center this year and seemed to relish in that role of being "the man". And then he got moved out and has been much less productive. Somewhere down the road, I think that's going to have to be addressed. While I don't think Kane wants to be a captain, I also don't think he wants to be seen as Toews "Lil Buddy". But, that's a down the road issue, now is the time to ride what he's got going for all it's worth.

    I don't know if Keith got his call from Shanaban yet, but he deserves it. By most accounts, it was retaliation for something Sedin should also get suspended for, but this set the tone for the game. Near as I could tell, nobody on the Canucks really wanted to openly challenge Keith to fight which was kind of compounded by Keith probably not really wanting to fight anyone anyway. So, instead of fighting and getting it over with, the rest of the Nucks decided to act like bitches the rest of the night and try to hurt Keith after every whistle, the peak point being when Burrows knee'd Keith in the balls while he was laying on the ice. While I'm glad the Hawks won that game, I can't help but think not being able to score a pp goal contributed to the endless abuse. It probably won't get any better from here.

  • In reply to VegasHawksFan:

    Vegas, you didn't see Sedin's shoulder to Keith's head and a late hit to boot. It was earlier on around 7 minutes in. Go to TSN and look at the video. http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/

    As for Toews, they'll only get better with him in the line-up. Toews played in a lot of key situations and he'll be welcomed back if he comes back. As for Kane, I liked him at center too, and I think you're bang on about the reason for his sudden surge. Moreso, I think it's a combination of many things that have sparked the turnaround. The 9 game losing streak, the half-ass efforts, the (still) lousy special teams the subtle additions to the roster, Oduya, and Shaw, the commitment to Team D, coaching adjustments to the "system", the realization that missing the playoffs was not an option and Toews' concussion to name a few.

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    I did see it and I don't see any way it's not also a suspendable offense. It's late, Keith was looking the other way, and Sedin treated it like a free shot to say "HI bitch". Keith will get his punishment that is deserved, but I'm not sure many people are going to feel bad for Sedin. I don't like seeing players get hurt, even after what Sedin did which could very well have given Keith a concussion. Still, He dished out a bitch hit and got one in return. It's stuff I don't like to see but with guys like Sedin(s) and Burrows around, it's going to happen.

  • The Hawks broadcast last night simply said Mayers was sick, no details about it being an injury. If Keith is out, this will also get O'Donnell some much needed ice time. If the Hawks have any plans of going deep into the playoffs, there is no doubt that a guy like O'Donnell will be needed at some point.

  • While I think Kane's stepped up big the past few games, i think I'm starting to come around to the idea that his game *is* better suited for center, at least in the Hawks system. Not going to say he's coasted a few games at wing, but the defensive requirements never allow him a chance to do so, and having him in the middle gets the puck on his stick earlier in the neutral zone, letting him do what he does best, carve out space and stick handle his way to the open passing lane. Seems there's at least once a game where Kane's backcheck breaks up the odd-man rush nowadays.

    Keith will get his 2-3 games, and it'll be deserved. No prior history will work in his favor, but the retaliation factor will mitigate that. Sedin's hit was high and late, but didn't warrant the elbow he threw out. (Also doubt Sedin will get anything extra for it, nor do I think it really should, other than maybe a fine). Burrows is still a douche though...pretty sure my 6-year-old niece fights more like a man than he does.

    Also somewhat disagree on the third. First 10 minutes was all Vancouver, but they only had 2 shots in the last 10 minutes, and most of the action was in their zone...think both teams were hesitant to make a mistake and tightened up at that point, but the Hawks were starting to dictate play again at the end of the period. As noted though, Crawford made some big saves in the first half of the third.

  • I knew you guys would fill in the much needed talk about these specifics. Thanks!

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