It was Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya's premier in the Indian-head sweater, and boy was it a rough start for him and his new team. The scene was that of two struggling teams coming together from different conferences battling to keep their playoff hopes alive. If you have not yet started questioning the playoff hopes of the Hawks, maybe the 1st period of this game helped you to get there.
By the end of the first 20 minutes, the Hawks looked like a team without any drive, motivation, or care to putting together a winning record from now until the end of the regular season. They were lucky to be only a goal down, 3-2 in just 20 minutes of play, and Oduya had the luck of being on the ice for every single goal against. Obviously, not just his fault, the team looked lost, chasing around and losing most battles at any end of the ice. Their neutral zone play was laughable, causing turnover upon turnover, and Crawford was not up for the challenge in any shape or form.
Being pulled in the first 20 again, the choice to start Crawford time and time again is one I will keep looking to Q as a confusing one. Luckily, Emery was up for another bout of rebounding the team, and the rest of the line-up responded in the 2nd period to help fix what was broken, although not completely fix.
It was not all a loss during the 1st however. Shaw made his triumphant return with a bang, scoring a huge goal after cycling out of the corner. He was a breath of fresh air for the team once again, and it was nice to see. The game would end up being 3-1 in Toronto's favor eventually, but again, a single hard play by a winger would help take a bite out of that lead. A great play by Stalberg to win the puck twice, and on 2 good hits eventually allowed him to work the puck out of the corner and to the point. Kruger, doing what he does best, went right to the slot and was able to deflect a shot off of Leddy's stick (Leddy had 2 assists on the night).
Beyond his 2 assists, Leddy actually had hands in other goals and in the form of some big, aggressive plays to keep the puck in the posession of the Hawks. Oduya had is hard times, but Leddy seemed right at home as his D-partner, though his size continues to be his downfall.
Only 1 goal out, Emery started the 2nd period off, and the Hawks responded in large ways. Namely, Kaner and Hossa, who began to put on a clinic for the viewing pleasure of the United Center crowd. There were at least 3 occasions when Q threw the dynamic duo out against Toronto's lesser lines and it paid off big. I have to give a shout out to Q here, the best moments of Hawks play was at the hands of this move, and it was a game-changer. Regardless of who they were playing against, Kane and Hossa were out to prove something and they lead their team to an eventual victory.
I had my concerns here and there for the next 40 minutes, but it was an overall strong performance for the rest of the game by the Hawks. Yes, Toronto is a struggling team, and yes, the special teams still had their concerns, but it at least seemed like the Hawks really wanted to win, and they did in the end.
The will of this team is most definitely up for question, and so is the ability to win without their captain. The fact remains, that when this team skates hard, and plays a more positioned game, they will always be within reach of a win. What does not seem so clear is why they continually swing back and forth between caring. Why did they come out of the gate so terribly, and what is Q not doing to get their focus for a full 60 minutes of hockey. Again, I point to consistency as the Hawks biggest issue.
I thought that the addition of a bigger body like Bollig was a nice one. I feel for Frolik, and see his talent, but a bigger body is what the Hawks need right now if he is not going to produce numbers. I hope the Hawks find a nice home for him during the off-season, and maybe Frolik will finally find his scoring touch under new leadership.
We could again discuss the issue of Kane as a center, since it seemed to work out last night (although the Hawks were not so great at the dot). I would aslo like to point out the play of Lepisto, both physically and positionally during the game. Seabrook seemed lost in Yonkers, but other D-Men stood up, and Lepisto was one of them, in a big way when he saved a goal with a nice kick-save (maybe he can give Crawford some tips).
Not perfect by any means, but a win, and that is what they needed right now. Question: is there any hope for these guys without Toews on the ice?