Antti Who? Turco Comes Up Big Again as Blackhawks Continue to Roll

On Wednesday night, two Western Conference heavyweights came to the United Center for a game that would be televised across the US and Canada. After being eliminated from consecutive postseasons by the Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks certainly have a score to settle any time they play Chicago.

Turco red puck Van.jpg

This game was unique, though. Roberto Luongo was pulled after allowing six goals on 18 shots to a struggling Minnesota Wild team on Tuesday, and the Canucks were without a number of key players. It would be up to Luongo to slow down a potent Chicago offense that featured two of the top scorers in the league.

To his credit, Luongo answered the bell on Wednesday night. He handled a number of breakaways, a few of which were exceptional chances for Marian Hossa, and held the Blackhawks to only one goal on 32 shots in 65 minutes. Considering the circumstances, the performance for Luongo was very impressive.

But it wasn’t good enough.

That’s been the story for Blackhawks opponents for a week now, as the netminder in the Indian head sweater has been playing at an elite level. Marty Turco has been the difference in the last four games for Chicago as the Hawks have made a run back to the top of the standings.

Wednesday night’s games was just the most recent example of Turco’s recent dominance. He allowed only one goal in 65 minutes while facing 37 shots, 18 of which came in the third period and overtime. He once again made the biggest saves when they were needed, including an effective pokecheck on Mikael Samuelsson’s shootout attempt that sealed the victory.

When the Blackhawks made the decision over the summer to walk away from the goalie that won them the Stanley Cup, a lot of fans were angry. After all, Antti Niemi had done for Chicago what Tony Esposito, Ed Belfour and a host of other goalies had not for 49 years. Certainly bringing in the older Turco would lead to a drop-off in play.

The crutch argument that analysts (including myself) made to defend the move was that Turco’s save percentage was actually better than Niemi’s last year, but he was facing too many shots behind a very average defense in Dallas. If he was able to play behind a team that allowed the fewest shots in the game, he would be at least adequate.

During the Blackhawks four-game winning streak, all four of which have been started by Turco in only six days, the Hawks goalie has faced 144 shots and saved 136 of them – a ridiculous .944 save percentage. Even though the number of shots he’s facing (36 per game) is disappointing, Turco has opened eyes in Chicago and, now, around the league with his play.

It was supposed to be the defensemen keeping Turco in games, not Turco bailing out the Hawks.

Turco is now 4-1-1 with a 2.42 goals against average and .929 save percentage on the season.

One of the keys to Turco’s strong play has been rebound control. He left a few in front of the crease in Colorado and against Detroit in his first two starts, but has been excellent kicking pucks into corners and, occasionally, playing a puck up the ice. He has also been outstanding with the glove, plucking shots out of the air in traffic and recovering well.

So far it hasn’t come up roses for Niemi. In fact, Niemi is struggling in San Jose, starting the year 1-2-0 with a 3.71 goals against average and a mediocre .879 save percentage. His two losses have been to Atlanta and Carolina, games in which he has allowed four and five goals, respectively.

It’s still very early, but so far Turco has been one of the best free agent additions in the entire NHL.

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  • "An effective poke check on Mikael Samuelsson"???
    Did you even watch the game? Marty didn't even come close to getting a poke check on Samuelsson.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u0yAizh2Ag#t=4m08s

    It's in the video. Maybe you were thinking of Daniel?
    And remember that Luo put up those kinds of saves on a road game... when it's October (where we all know he aint so great) and vs last years stanley cup champs. I'd say that wasn't a solid win for the Hawks.

  • In reply to Skead:

    At this point of the season for the Hawks who are still playing with some lines and personal I would say that this was a solid win. They looked stronger as a whole and the glaring weaknesses didn't seem so bad last night with Scott not making a fool of himself Stahlberg scoring the only goal for the Hawks and I think Bolland and Seabrook looked better than they have this season. Improvements is the name of the game right now and making improvements while getting a win against a tough rival is always a good game.

  • In reply to Stylin19:

    I totally agree. Frankly, with the schedule the Hawks had lined up and the roster turnover, I hoped to see the team winning games like this in mid- to late-November. The on-ice chemistry is still lacking and the hole left when Brian Campbell went down has been enormous in every aspect of the game. But what's lost on people is a very simple reality: you only play 82 games. Excuses are for teams that end up watching playoff games at home. The fact that the Hawks are off to a 4-2-1 start while trying to figure out who's who should excited fans for the potential of this roster when they get comfortable.

  • In reply to Stylin19:

    Tab where are your seats? Would like to buy you a beer one night if that would be ok. I am always a fan at talking good hockey and it is just a little difficult to do especially with all the *new* hockey fans in Chicago. Their knowledge is just a little lacking. I will be there Wednesday against the Kings. let me know, if not no worries I will still read your blogs.

  • In reply to Skead:

    Turco did a nice job, but I don't think faced a high-quality chance all night. Many of the shots against were long drives that he deflected into the corner or caught in his chest. It's an improvement from Huet much of last year, but I'm not overly convinced as of yet.

  • In reply to borg:

    There were a couple of times a lot of traffic got in front of the net and he was able to hang on/clear the puck, and he was good with the glove on a few hard shots from the outside in traffic. Of the 37 shots he faced, I'll agree that maybe 8-9 were good scoring chances, but any time 37 shots get to the net keeping 36 out is impressive.

    Especially when you only get one goal of support until in 65 minutes.

  • In reply to Skead:

    I watched the game from my season tickets last night.

    I invite you to consider what I wrote a second time. Did I say Turco "Slapped the puck away"? No. Did I say Turco "Handled a tough shot"? No. I said he managed an effective poke check. Was that "effective" a whiff that led to Samuelsson mishandling the puck and not getting a good shot on net? Sure. But it was effective.

    And Luongo is still a world class netminder when he actually shows up, which he did last night (until the shootout).

    You can make any/every excuse you want, but a win against a team many feel is the favorite to win the Cup MEANS SOMETHING. The Hawks only get 82 games to accumulate points during the regular season, and have already played 8 (most in the league). Taking a night off can't happen. Was it a pretty win for the Hawks? No. But was it a solid win over a good team? Absolutely.

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