It has been a while since our last post here at PowWow. 5 games to be exact, of which there was an OT loss to the Nucks, a 7-3 loss to Toronto, and 3 strong textbook wins. Reasons for not getting time to talk about the Hawks include the pre-winterbreak rush at school and the many outside educational projects I have going on. One such project includes creating the biggest Illinois high school art show ever. Vegas is busy working on his higher education, and so it leaves us with little hockey time. I'm not even playing hockey right now.
So, it would seem posts are going to be fewer and further between these days. Might not be the game-to-game recaps of the past, but I will get here as often as I can to talk about my Blackhawks observations.
In case you didn't already know, the Hawks have one of the best back-checks in the league if not the best. It probably isn't mentioned enough that this is might be the greatest aspect of their game. Obviously stemming from their speed, the Hawks are relentless on opponents breakouts through neutral ice, and this is often the vehicle for a lot the offense they provide. BTW, I do give Q some credit for this approach to their game, but again, the roster is the source.
This helped squeeze the life out of the early goings of the game, because NJ is a pretty sound defensive team. Unfortunately for the Devils, the Hawks forecheck and offensive pressure proved too much to handle, and things started to open up after Sharp's first goal on the night.
With the help from the back-check causing NJ turnovers in the neutral zone, the Hawks held the Devils to 1 shot through 18 minutes of play and only 2 through the 1st period. As the Hawks offense started getting through the Devils barrier and the forecheck sustained that offensive pressure, we started to see just about as clean and clear of a win you could hope for heading into break.
As crazy as it sounds, this was not good enough to keep the Hawks on top of the league and conference as Anaheim went 9-0-1 in their last ten games and now have 1 point on the Hawks. A little segue here; I read an article on NHL.com before the Toronto loss that talked about the ridiculous record the Hawks have had in their previous 82 games. If it were a full season, it would have been one of the most dominant performances in the history of the NHL, behind of course, the Red Wings. Not to be outdone, the Ducks have had an almost as impressive record through the same space of time. Just saying, the Hawks would have finished with 128 points in an 82 game season, only 3 points behind the amazing 131 point season of the Wings. Both the Ducks and Hawks could very well top that this season.
Back to recent observations. Okay, let's get right to Sharp and Kane who are playing some unbelievable hockey these days. Sharp netted his 18th of the season and 10th in 14 games. Kaner netted his 22nd of the season and 49th point. What's that I hear, a 100 point season coming? Enough has been said about the seasons these 2 are having, but what is most impressive to me is their play when they don't have the puck, and the fact that Kane's goal was the result of over powering another payer to pick-up a garbage goal.
And I have to point it out that Handzus was not on the ice for Kane's goal which was the result of an amazing forecheck by Verstud. It is crazy when you look at Zus' numbers, because they are pretty harsh, while Kane's and Versteeg's are great. Not only do the numbers show some weak performances by Zus, he also missed a wide open rebound opportunity in the 1st period after a Kane rush, he allowed a great NJ scoring opportunity before that by failing to keep the puck deep and falling down, and he was in the slot when a loose puck was picked up by NJ for a goal against.
I know it is covered by all the goals and offensive generation by Kane, but Zus is not playing well. I had to laugh when Eddie mentioned what Zus said about why Q is such a good coach. "Because when you're playing well, you play, and when you're not, he tells you."
Back to Versteeg for a moment. Yes, that play to steal possession deep in the NJ zone and feed Leddy which resulted in Kaner's goal was a sick play, and Versteeg deserves a lot of credit. But, plays like that from him are becoming more and more frequent as Kris begins to find his place and role on this team, and playing with Kane. Good things.
The Hawks actually scored 2 goals off of amazing forechecks like the Versteeg one. Not surprising, the other because of Saad.
I have harped a lot on Seabrook this year, and I still think he deserves it, but he has been looking better in the past 5 or so games. Unfortunately, that 2nd goal against, involving that loose puck, falls heavily on him. Then on Zus IMO.
Hey, Bickell was given too much time to let his wrister go, and that's what happens. I like how that line balances out, even though I'm not sure Saad belongs on the 3rd line.
Overall, a very solid win, sprinkled with a lot of goalposts hit by the Hawks.
Okay, that 4th line has been playing against other team's top lines and it is really worrying me. Sure, the Hawks are winning, so it isn't a big problem, but their numbers against these lines suggest that they should be getting lit up. Which means, we are lucky they haven't been lit up. Last night, they didn't play against NJ's top lines, and they were still outplayed. In fact, they were the only line outplayed. I don't think that Smith is the problem, because frankly, the kid is a beast and does almost everything right.
There have been talks about Keith getting the Norris this year. I have to ask how he could when another D-man on his team is playing the toughest minutes? Hjalmer and Oduya have been getting the roughest assignments and have been playing brilliant shut-down hockey. This cannot be overstated.
I have been worried from recent performances that Leddy just isn't up to physical challenges.
The Hawks don't seem to win when their power-play doesn't score. Going 0-4 in the Nucks game is the reason they lost. Props to Vancouver for playing an excellent shut-down game though. The Hawks had very little space.
Raanta's atheticism outweighs his problems IMO. His issues have a lot to do with playing the angles right, and that has a lot to do with not being used to American hockey. He also has concerns with having players all up in his crease and face. However, he seems to be getting better at seeing pucks through that traffic and dealing with it. A handful of goals were the result of his angles though, and if he was putting himself in the right positions, the pucks would start hitting him instead of squeaking through sides. It starts with coming out of the net a little more.
My question is then, how does he stack-up against Crow? There has been enough of a sample on Raanta to start talking about it. Raanta's numbers are better, and he has more potential to get better. Do we, and should we have a goalie controversy on our hands once again? After the Christmas break, the Hawks have a quick and tough 3 games. Raanta's performance through this should say a lot. My advice to Q is that when Crow comes back, he should play them like he did Emery and Crow last year. This will only result in good things.
Filed under: Game Recap