Does anyone recall the last time Crawford and the Blackhawks recorded a shutout? Me neither.
The Hawks finished their ridiculous road trip in Nashville last night in top form, recording their 10th win, avoiding any losses in their regulation loss column, and they did it with a solid win. The type of win, against the type of team that the Preds are, that gives you a warm feeling inside.
I wouldn't call it perfect, but it was very clean, and polished just enough that when things did seem to fall in place for Nashville, the support and seemingly stable system of play rebounded to spoil the Pred's chances. I was very deliberate in using the word rebound, because it was something the Pred's were never able to do, both in terms of their play, and in their ability to find rebounds on Crawford. For the few prime scoring chances Nashville did produce, it was one and done. Chicago did not allow many second chances and zero 3rd chances. Hence their meager 17 shots on net. Maybe the only one, which was very early in the game, allowed a puck to slide across the crease and bounce off the far post. From then on, everything was closed up by the Hawks defense.
They did not do this by having the best defensive positioning in the world, because they sure as heck don't have that right now. What they did have at an astounding level was support, and what seemed to be a determination to not let Nashville score. Every player on that bench wanted the shutout just as bad as the next guy. By staying on the move, and getting sticks on pucks, or in the passing lanes, the Hawks denied Nashville of producing much of anything.
1 player was on the ice more than 20 minutes for the Hawks, and it wasn't Keith or Seabrook. It was Oduya, and not for the first time this season, Hjalmer and Oduya were the highest played defensemen.
With Leddy and Hjalmer playing the way they are, sprinkle in a little Saad playing out of his mind on the 1st line (how many penalties has that guy drawn from his high powered play?), Kane playing out of his mind (did you see his spin-o-rama, behind the back centering pass to a crashing Bolland?), a down right intimidating PK, and a 4th line like something the Hawks have seen since maybe the Cup winning roster if ever, and you have an explanation for why the Hawks do not have a regulation loss after playing 10 of their first 12 on the road.
The next 7 are at home folks, and they will not be easy. Anaheim is playing some darn good hockey which has given them the pleasure of 2nd in the conference, and they have the Sharks along with Vancouver again, SJ twice in this home-stand. They will also see the Kings very soon, and that team is extremely hungry coming off of a very disappointing start when they are capable of so much more.
But again, if last night was any indication of what this current roster is capable off, then I think they can meet the challenge. Sure 12 games isn't a lot of hockey by any measures, but I think we can start piling into the party bus that is the 2013 season.
The only 2 players that showed up looking like they spent the entire off season eating and watching TV are even starting to come alive. Last night was Seabrook's, and Sharp's best all around performance, and Sharp is looking like a guy ready to join the party. This could help that 2nd line dramatically.
Just for a quick recap, the Hawks and Preds started off exchanging small scoring chances between careful play indicative of any game the Predators are involved in. Nashville tried and succeeded many times in making the Hawks play their board games, which played to their favor for a while, but the Hawks were also finding solace in the fact that they were winning just about every race to any puck, and in their lack of fear for finding goals this year. They looked like a team in control and without worry.
I was watching from the Nashville feed, and it was kind of funny hearing the announcers talk about how fast the Hawks were, over and over. Especially when Stalberg blew past a few defensemen making them look like they were floating pylons. Yes, the Hawks are fast. You can also put that in the column for reasons why the Hawks are without any regulation losses.
Eventually, the Hawks started to get a little eager for a goal and started sticking their heads out a little from the careful play that made up most of the 1st period. I want to say it began with the 3rd line, as this feels like a trend over the past couple of weeks, but it was the 4th line and Kruger that delivered.
I was hard on Kruger, as I just didn't see the talent needed to succeed in this league, but Q and the Hawks found a place fitting for a guy with that kind of will to work. Last night, he willed the first puck behind Pecka Rinne, and there you have the game winner. Let us be reminded that it is never a bad option to shoot. Kruger, you have earned your wings.
Chest shots are Rinne's achilles heal. Captain Marvel knew it, so he redirected the puck off his chest into the goal after Duncan Keith made a 1st class play to get the puck towards the net in the first place. 2-0 Hawks.
And just because his name is Patrick Kane, and all of his bullcrap is behind him, scoring a goal from an impossible angle on maybe the toughest goalie to score against isn't out of the equation these days. In producing de-ja-vu of Cup winning goals, Kane put this game out of reach while keeping his post at 2nd in the league in scoring. That's 19 points in 12 games folks. Yep, he is on fire.
With the shutout, Crawford improves to a 1.62 goals against average, and even better considering his defense lately, is a .935 save percentage. Not only has this really happened, but Emery has given the Hawks their only goalie win in who knows how long. By some grace of the hockey gods, goaltending does not seem to be an issue. I say seem, because Crow has not completely made a believer out of me. He still has some of the same issues that were present last year, but he has sugar coated them with much better positioning and maybe the best defensive end in the league right now. Nashville had a lot of shots go wide last night, and Crawford's positioning could have had a big hand in it. Sometimes the best save is one you don't have to make.
So when you look at this team, and everything I just mentioned, maybe only a couple holes still exist. Finding a 2nd line center is still something worth looking into, as Shaw will be better served in another role no matter how well he plays in whatever role he is given. I am also of the mind that Frolik should get some time on the 3rd line. Bickell has played well, but Fro has been better. Playing less minutes on the 4th could be a reason why he has the energy to be so dominant on the PK, but I still want to see him moved up. Finding a 2nd line center would allow Bolland to go back to the 3rd which could end up providing an even better rotation of 4 lines. Shaw Kruger Bickell on the 4th?
Anyhow, I shouldn't be making suggestions when the Hawks are dominating the league.
This first game home in a while will be a doozy, but hell, I thought last night was going to be a harder win than it was. Thank you Rinne for having an off night.