The Chicago Blackhawks entered the 3rd period against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night with a 1 goal lead. Only a handful of games ago, I would have expected that lead to have disappeared, maybe to have returned in another form, or maybe an OT to decide the outcome. Like in the many games over the course of this season, the Hawks were the dominant force for 2 periods of play. Fortunately for us, the Hawks are becoming a well oiled machine who is not only capable of scoring 5 goals in a period if necessary, it looks as though they can now hold a playoff team to only 6 shots in the 3rd when that team needs the win a heck of a lot more than they do themselves.
There is no team in the entire NHL who is allowing as few goals against per game as the Hawks. There is no team in the entire NHL that is scoring more goals per game. This alone, could be the most important stats for the Hawks. A closer look would show that the 3rd period has illustrated a contradiction to those stats, but it looks like that is no more.
On average, the Hawks are outshooting their opponents by 14 shots a game. I am going to talk about goaltending in a second, but I want that stat to remain in your head while I do so.
In a shocking move a few nights ago, Ray Emery got the nod after playing the night before. We were shocked again last night to see Emery with another shot to show his stuff. In the past 5 games Emery has played, he has been perfect in 3 of them, and last night was no different. Not so surprising is that Chicago is the center of some goalie conversation. Why should we be shocked about that, since it has pretty much been the case since Q arrived in Chicago. You can't argue with 3 shutouts in 5 games, but I anticipate Crawford getting the start on Friday night against a Wings team he has had success against. If this continues, I anticipate the revolving door to roll right into the playoffs.
Both Emery and Crawford are in the top 5 of goals against average, and both are in the top 10 of save percentage in the league. Emery is now under 2 goals per game. You really can't complain about those numbers, and yet we all have this nervousness towards our goaltenders. That is because these numbers are most likely due to the players in front of them. The Hawks are outshouting their opponents by a wide margin after all. However, I still find myself in the Emery camp. He has the only goalie win of the year for the Hawks, and I find his weaknesses less easy to exploit. He just sees the puck better, and knows where it is when it lays on the goal line, or is under him, which gets him out of circumstances that kill Crow. With the defense currently playing the way it is, I am less worried about his side to side movement.
Enough about goalies. Let's roll into that defensive play element.
It has been a real treat to watch the Hawks improve in their own zone. I think some of this improvement can be given to the little changes in the forward lines, and changes in the defensive pairings. There is more balance currently. I think we have watched Kaner improve vastly in his defensive play, and I can't help but notice this area improved when Bolland went out. Not that I am blaming him, but he has been having his worst season ever.
What I really think has made a difference is the overall positioning, and constant movement of the wingers while in their zone. Not only are the wingers getting position on the pointmen, but they are moving their feet which is allowing them to win most of the battles. Add in the addition of a center who plays his role like a center, and we have seen much more cohesion in their own zone, which has also paved the way for a crisper breakout, because the defensemen have gained the ability to make better outlet passes.
The Hawks best defense is puck possession, and this new found cohesion on the breakout is allowing for sustained puck possession. The Hawks are also back to being aggressive on the forecheck, which has been highly successful as of late. The Hawks are really beginning to look like a patient team, who has confidence in their ability to score goals when needed. they are getting pucks deep appropriately, getting pucks to the net, and establishing a strong net presence. What more can we ask for?
The PK is also looking better for all of this.
Unfortunately, the PP is still a work in progress.
They were also outhit 24-5 which is pretty painful, but they were 52% at the dot thanks to Sharp's 67% which is more important to their game. If teams are trying to hit the hawks into submission, it doesn't seem to be working, although it was obviously getting under Kane's skin.
The Blackhawks are looking very, very good these days, and there is not doubt that they should be the favored team in the playoffs. The score should have been worse last night, but it didn't need to be. The Hawks had great energy against a playoff team who needed the win much more. Q recently said that he wants to go into the playoffs strong. This is just it. Q has the right mentality right now, and so does his team.
Filed under: Game Recap