First off, let's get to this Duncan Keith suspension thing: If you haven't yet watched the video of Shanahan delivering his judgment, you should. The important part for us is that Keith has been handed a 5-game suspension. My reaction is this; it seems a bit harsh, ignores Sedin's role in all of it, Burrow's escaped his own suspension, but in the end it is Keith who I am displeased with.
I thought Keith was looking at a 2-3 game suspension. He had no priors, and the hit did not look quite nearly as terrible as others we have seen this year. Plus, Sedin's hit on Keith earlier in the game also targeted Keith's head, but went without as much as a fine. Adding to the confusion over this punishment is that Shane Doan received a lesser sentence for an extremely similar hit. The difference would appear to be that Sedin missed the game and might miss more. While I can agree with the idea that players should suffer similar amounts of missed play as their victims, this might not have been the hit to start that pattern.
Again, with all that said, it is Keith that I point the finger at. As it now stands, the Hawks are still battling for position in the playoffs. If not to make it in, then to avoid the Nucks or Blues in the first round. They now have to win against a few tough teams without Toews, and without their #1 D-man. Say what you will about Keith's performance this year, it still seems that his play is pretty well connected with the Hawks success. While Keith's elbow might not have been enough for 5 games IMO, it was still stupid, had the intent that others are assuming it did, and should be punished. Can we please be a better team than the Nucks?
Does this mean it is time to bring O'Donnell back, or is Lepisto the better option due to his superior puck-moving skills? Do we move Oduya to the top line with Seabrook, taking him away from Leddy, or move Hjalmer to the top line with Seabs? One move hurts our defensive game, while the other hurts our puck-moving game. My personal feeling is that the Hawks are winning based on their transition and puck-moving game, so you do what you can to keep that running as smoothly as possible.
This brings us back to the larger picture of where the Hawks currently stand. Quite simply, we have seen some pretty decent hockey from the Hawks in recent games, and that winning streak is really necessary given Keith's verdict, Toews' recovery, and the time of the year and schedule ahead.
I can't help but keep coming back to the Toews element. Without him, the Hawks have finally patched up some of the gaping holes in their game. How long those patches hold is yet to be seen, but I have to be happier with the types of moves coming from the coaching staff save for the special team's terrible idea of smart hockey. I am content with the PK, but the PP is enough to doubt the future. Thankfully, the Hawks have been staying out of the box as long as they aren't playing the Canucks. An element to their game that has greatly impressed me.
While you might not be completely happy with everything that Shaw does on the ice, his presence as added intensity and goals. Scoring 11 in just his first 30 games in the NHL. This has helped spread the scoring a little more evenly across the lines. Kane and Hossa are producing, while Sharp and Stalberg seem pretty content playing together and using their speed to overwhelm others. The 3rd line has looked fairly strong as well. I still think Bickell is gone next year, but he seems a little more interested in playing hockey these days. Could the addition of Shaw have helped, or did he finally get an ultimatum?
The defense has figured something out, which has its roots in the team commitment to defense, and the addition of Oduya to help smooth things out. The Keith thing is unfortunate, but you have to be happy with where the Hawks stand as opposed to earlier in the year.
With a win tomorrow, the Hawks can grab 2nd in the Central and find a 4th place spot in the West. They seem primed for a 4th, 5th, or 6th spot which means that they will either play the winner of the Pacific, the Wings, or the Preds in the first round. As long as it is not the Blues or Canucks. Given their recent play, I have good feelings about making it to the 2nd round. Their success will then depend on the health of the team, and especially Toews.
The news is that Toews is skating, and for the 3rd day in a row. This is better news than if he wasn't skating, but we still have no idea what it means in the big picture. My hope is that we see him sometime in the 1st round of the playoffs and that anything else would be gravy. If he can come back and resume his domination without the rest of the team getting lazy again, the Hawks could be on their way to winning a lot of playoff games. We will just have to wait and see.
For now, my eyes are on Q and company to make the tough choices, making sure the Hawks do not fall into a dangerous position by the end of next week. The Preds are tomorrow, then the Devils, Blues and Preds again. A lot can happen in the 5 games that Keith has been suspended from.
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