Just 17 games into this shortened season we already have a record setting year. It is last night's win however, that gives me reason to feel so soft and cuddly about this team. Because, when the going got tough (meaning the Sharks really came out strong), and something bigger than just another win was on the line, the Chicago Blackhawks prevailed.
Absolutely, the Sharks wanted very badly to spoil the Hawks party, and they seemingly gave one of their best performances in a while to try and do so. They came out of the gate flying, pressuring, hitting, and shooting with all that they had, and the Sharks are no team to laugh at. But you know what? It wasn't enough to beat the Hawks.
Things looked a little scary early, as Emery had to fight off a few primo scoring chances, some of which were generated by long time buddy to the Hawks, Martin Havlat. Emery was a little shaky early, but he and the Hawks soon simmered down, got their game together, and found themselves in maybe the best shutdown performance we have seen all year from our guys.
I'm trying to say that the Hawks actually looked comfortable in their own end for the 2nd to last 3rd of the game. This was most definitely not the case early, but give the Hawks credit when it is due. When they are chasing a late lead, or trying to get the go-ahead late, the Hawks finish stronger. I guess they need a reason.
And let's be real about this one, the hawks penalty kill was the #1 star of the game. Not only did they come up with some very timely kills, but (the new boy wonder) Brandon Saad also provided a shorty for the game winner. Can we have anymore reason to celebrate how dominant this kill has been? Can we have anymore reason to cheer the performances of some key role players such as Kruger, Frolik (whom I am still certain would be generating more offense on the 3rd line), Hjalmer, and Oduya, whom all had more than 3 special moments to keep this game at 1 goal against? Nope, so let's move on.
The Hawks found goals, which is something they do this year. My wife was commenting on how they still don't have that overtly dominant play to their game which they had in 2010, and pointed to the fact that luck has been an ally this year. I agree with her, and I think this team has a decent amount of room for improvement, which is only more reason to get excited.
I am also excited for the unique strengths of this year's team. For 1, their 4th line is a heck of a lot stronger today. For 2, the PK (obviously). For 3, the defensive roster, which is in my eyes the best in the league and even better than the 2010 roster (yes, without Campbell). The depth was great then, and it is nothing to laugh at today, but what I really like is a more experienced youth in the form of your Kane's and your Toews'.
My crush from last year, and my new crush this year are the ones who found the back of the net last night to make the record a reality. I think that there is something special in the talent level of 2 players like Stalberg and Saad, who are not necessarily considered your top 6, but have skills that go above and beyond many team's top 6. Frankly, Stalberg has been somewhat of a disappointment for me this year, not having the scoring touch I was hoping to see. I do find solace in how easily he can generate his own scoring chances, and knowing that he probably would have a couple of more goals playing on the top 2 lines, but I really find a reason to be excited in the play of Saad. He has the gift (scorers-instinct), and as his confidence and experience grows, we are going to start seeing more and more fireworks.
There were plenty of reasons to get excited over this game, and quite a few that point to areas of opportunities to get better. I am curious why Carcillo was moved up for a couple of shifts, but one has to be happy with his play in his first game back. He caused just enough ruckus, and never took it too far. In a sense, he was the perfect Carcillo.
With Bolland maybe missing a few games, it might not be the best time to mess around with the lines, but I still wouldn't mind seeing a few shifts to the details. I am going to beat a dead horse and ask once again for Hossa to find more time on the 3rd line. I dream of a Bolland/Hossa/Frolik 3rd line. At this point, anyone playing with Toews and Saad up front will have success. Hossa's skills could be better served elsewhere, and I think he needs fewer minutes per game.
Obviously, the 2nd line had some glaring concerns early in the game. Nothing new, and Kaner is in a bit of a slump, but you still want to see it addressed sooner than later. How about while we are winning and happy, rather than struggling and being frustrated?
I digress, because right now is a time for celebration. The Hawks are a ridiculously difficult team to beat these days, and they have plenty of options before them. Let's ride this pony as long as it has the energy, and up the record books a little further with a win against a couple of bottom tier teams.