It is not often you see a team get held to 0 shots through an entire period. It is even a little more weird to see the team that was outshot 12 - 0 in the 1st period end up winning the game. The sloppy play of a fresh season had a hand in it, as well as the Hawks special team's woes. Goaltending had a hand, and maybe even a little bad luck for the Hawks. No matter how you look at it though, you have to feel pretty good knowing that 99 out of 100 times, the Hawks win that game by at least a 2 goal margin.
Still, a loss is a loss, and a reason to walk out of the UC feeling a little cheated. However, there are some highlights worth getting excited over. As I mentioned, the play was still in early season sloppy mode, and this played well into Tampa's game plan of waiting for the right moment to send out St Louis and Stamkos. If this was a mid-season game, the Hawks would have connected for at east 2 more goals before the Lightning even got on the board. Worth noting is that Bickell fired 9 shots towards the net, 2 of which missed some pretty large holes between the goaltender.
This brings me to the play of 2 individuals that are a reason to get excited. I was at last night's game in person, and the value of seeing the whole ice as players move as a unit, but also being able to see the small individual efforts outside of the play is priceless. 2 players that stood out in a very important way were Saad and Shaw. Saad would have at least notched 2 goals in most games like this, and Shaw also had a few good looks. That 3rd line as a whole was brilliant to watch. This might be in part, due to the lackluster bottom 6 that Tampa has, but the kind of domination performed by that 3rd line, fueled by the energy, smart play, and skills of Saad (and Shaw too) should have been the overwhelming difference in this game. Both of these guys are all over the ice, pressuring, pursuing, and winning most battles. I can't tell you how many times they stole the puck back because of a quick stick or hustled back-check. And where Shaw is in their face, Saad is opening the ice up with his power-forward and smart hockey ways. Even on the 3rd line, I can't see Saad not breaking 25 goals, if not 30 or more this year.
Was Ben Smith a factor on this line? I think he did some very big little things, and he is always in the right place which helps the other 2 work even more magic.
And yes, the Toews/Kane/Bickell line continues to be far too much to handle. This is even with Kane obviously off his game. He was slow, and making little missteps all game, and he still managed a goal. They have to have accounted for almost 25 shots directed at the net. 11 of which made it to the goaltender Bishop. Goaltending which absolutely had a hand in this game. You can't get outshot 39-16 and win without goaltending factoring in. I will save the heat on Crawford for a later time.
So, some of the above mentioned factors, add in a little power-play and penalty killing concerns, and not being able to put a team away when they should be dead, and you have yourself a weird loss.
The power-play: The bar is pretty low coming into the season which leaves me feeling pretty happy about the outcomes in game 1 and 2. I mean, the Hawks have 2 PP goals in 2 games. What stands out is the newly found ability for the Hawks to enter the zone, which you really get a good look at when you are actually in the stadium. A large part of this is that the Hawks forwards are trying to be moving when the D brings the puck in (not the case before), and I even saw a couple of outlet passes to forwards to enter the zone. This should not be the rocket science they have turned into, but it is a big improvement.
The problem is, and this could be due to a lack of practice, that the Hawks seem stagnant and unsure of themselves once into the zone. So, we see more zone presence on the PP, but nothing that gets you that excited once there. Here are my thoughts. The puck spends way too much time at the point, and it is the only place the Hawks seem to go with it, without creating any movement to open up a lane. This is one of the reasons why the point should be played by actual defensemen, all of the time. Leddy and Seabrook are stronger on the point than Hossa or Sharp. Keith and Oduya should get those spots.
Secondly, there was a moment during one of the PP's that every single player was a lefty. This is a huge problem, and one that has me glaring at Q for some actual coaching to happen. The other problem is that a dump and chase mentality should be stripped from the Hawks minds. It is a bad idea, and teams are hip to it. The goal scored by Saad was a fluke. Lastly, for now anyway, the Hawks have little to no high slot presence. This is one of the reasons they continue to force the point. The one time they did, Bickell ended up with a huge scoring chance, maybe the best we have seen in a while on the PP. Reflect back to Seabrook's goal in the opener, he was pinching into the high slot. Opening up this area requires much better movement among other things. I digress.
The PK: It was short-lived, but man was it ugly. It is early in the season, and letting 2 of your key guys go here, will cause some growing pains (one of the many reasons the Frolik move was a bad one), but it was really hard to watch. Kruger was all over the ice, pressuring, but blowing coverage while Smith seemed confused by Kruger's lack of position. Stamkos and St Louis will make you pay.
Kostka: looked good. For a while he wasn't very noticeable, which I will take, but at closer look, he actually made some very strong plays throughout the 2nd half.
Hjalmarsson: should have been the one getting that 6year, 6 mil contract that Crawford got, because he is the main reason the puck stays out of our net. He is playing perfectly executed defense which includes making the hard plays look easy. On top of that, his drive to the net that allowed for Kane's goal was brilliant, and he currently holds a +5 rating and 3 assists in 2 games. IMO, he and Saad were your players of the game in red jerseys.
Bollig: Again, I like the guy personally, but you are going to run into some moments when he ends up out there with a player who has 1 full game of NHL experience against St Louis and Stamkos. It happened, Kruger couldn't win an important face-off which is a trend, and Bollig totally lost his man. St Louis still had to make a great play, but that is what he does. If Morin was playing last night, I'm not so sure that goal happens is all.
Sharp: needs to get some credit for the monster play he is showing on the ice. He is everywhere and making up for some of the lack of show from Zus and Hossa. Zus will make those small plays well, and when he is there, he does the right thing, but Sharp is the only reason that line wasn't getting burned IMO. I don't know if it is the injury or early season rust, but Hossa has definitely lost a step or 2. I'm telling you, he needs to get more limited minutes. And no more shootouts please. I can't stand watching him fire slap-shots. Especially when it is the only thing he seems to do lately. Easy save for Bishop.
If this was division play, and the game was more important, I expect the Hawks would have pulled that out. It wasn't, it's early, and they didn't. Still, outshooting a team like that has to be enough reason to call home about.
Filed under: Game Recap