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.