The Blackhawks came out as strong as ever Sunday evening against the Predators, recording 16 shots in just the first 15 minutes of hockey. The dominant shifts were not only reserved for the top line however, as it was the 4th liners composed of Shaw, Frolik, and Bollig that got the Hawks on the board first, and displayed just how deep this playoff bound team is.
It was a thing of beauty really, watching Frolik, and Shaw cycle the puck for endless minutes, generating chances, and simply annoying the hell out of a very defensively strong Preds team. Both Shaw and Fro showed just how weird it is to have them on the 4th line, and just how lucky Q is to be able to put such talented players that low in the lineup. Once again, Bollig proved that he might have more to offer than just fisticuffs.
Since this was in many aspects a repeat of the night before, with the exception of the score, we saw Kruger and Carcillo give very strong performances along Kaner, which still has me scratching my head a bit; and we again saw the top line bring the pain for most of the evening.
Handzus playing on the 3rd line gave us back-to-back looks at the newly acquired center, and again illustrated how this might have been a very subtle, but strong grab by SB and Q. I was wrong to say Handzus was just a face-off coach. He is obviously a very sound defensive player, especially in his own zone, which is something the Hawks are lacking. Wouldn't you know it, a center who can get the puck to his wingers?
Could Handzus be our 2nd line center when Bollie and Sharpie come back? This would free up Shaw to be a winger, and provide 4 very tough lines to beat.
Unfortunately, the shellacking being handed down by the Hawks did not continue throughout the game, as a desperate Preds team did their best to fight back, and keep the score close, even taking the lead for a brief moment of time. It was a lead that they did not deserve, bought by the always outstanding play of their goaltender Pecka Rinne and a couple of mistakes by the Hawks. It brought out the Hawks big guns though, and for that, we were entertained.
It is this ability to score when the going gets tough that makes the Hawks, what should be, the favored team heading into the playoffs. Because, they didn't let a Preds lead discourage them, even when the Preds had no right having that lead. They just got down to business, scored a couple goals, and took back what was rightfully theirs, and against a team who needed it a heck of a lot more.
- Obviously, some bad turnovers and defensive breakdowns cost the Hawks a blowout here. The game was tied after 1, because of just this. It seems that the Hawks are destined to get burned on every mistake they make. This should be more fuel to avoid said mistakes. A bad pass is one thing, not covering your position is another, and the Hawks are far too guilty of this to just turn a blind eye to.
- In what can only be seen as a shocking decision, Q went with Emery in back-to-back games. Not sure it really played out for him, but I was kind of glad to have seen him make that call, even though I think I might have done otherwise. I for one thought the decision at the beginning of the year to rotate the goalies on back-to-back games was a very solid one. I guess Q blew that when he played Crow two nights in a row a couple of weeks ago. Emery made some big saves, and eventually got the win, but just as his puck control saved him the night before, his inability to get from post to post hurt him this time.
- Bickell looks to be heating up. If Stalberg can start turning up the jets and begin playing like I want him to, this 3rd line could go into the playoffs with a lot of confidence.
- Looking at the stats sheet will make you smile. The 4th line averaged about 12 minutes of hockey, and Kane was around 16 minutes. The Hawks won 58% of their face-offs, registered 22 hits, and 4 players spread across all four lines registered 4 shots on net. I like the idea of Kane getting some rest, but I also fear that the choice to play him with Kruger and Carcillo kept his ice down. I guess it made for a great 4th line.
- Speaking of Kane, his set up to Toews for the game winner just about says it all. The kid has got eyes in the back of his head. Within a fraction of a second from skating hard into the corner, and stealing the puck, he had it mailed to Toews' stick allowing for the perfect shot.
- With the exception of their revived PK looking oh so strong, the Hawks have still got a lot of work to do in their own zone. If they keep the work ethic up, and fine tune some of their line chemistry, I think this can be much less of a fear in the playoffs.
The playoffs are clinched. How's about making the division, and then conference the same? Go Hawks!
Filed under: Game Recap