What a good call by Versus (becoming NBC Sports on January 2nd, if you haven’t seen that a MILLION times, ha ha) matching up the number one (Wild) and two (Hawks) Western Conference teams. The Wild also led the NHL in total points prior to the game. It would be Ray Emery (6-1-2) to make his 3rd consecutive start in the net against Nik Backstrom (11-6-2). Two solid goalies, two teams playing well this year. For the Hawks, to note, Ben Smith was sent back to Rockford and Brian Bickell dressed. Big John Scott played 3rd shift “D” alongside Montador, in the ever evolving and revolving # 3 match ups. Viktor Stalberg again (I don’t get it) started with Toews and Kane on the first line.
In the 1st period, the Hawks could have pulled Emery for the first 17 minutes for the extra attacker. The Wild did not have a shot on goal until the 2:59 mark, much to the sarcastic cheers of the Minnesota faithful. Both teams played very tentative for the entire period. There were no Power Plays for either side in a pretty fast moving (time wise) opening frame. The Hawks out shot the Wild 11-2.
The Hawks again picked up 2 points the dramatic way with a 3-2 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks. This now puts Coach Q only 3 wins away from the 600th victory mark. Ray Emery (5-1-2) got the nod. This was his first back to back starts as a Blackhawk, and probably not his last. Niemi (11-5-1) was between the pipes for the Sharks.
In the first period, Niemi came up early with a big save on Stalberg who AGAIN (remember that capitalizes word from last blog) could not connect in front. A couple of minutes later A Hawks Power Play netted nothing. The Hawks then on a Penalty Kill—76%, now in 27th place—cue the Jefferson’s cuz “We’re mov’n on up!” was successful. Another Hawks Penalty Kill, which looked more like a Power Play, was also very effective. Both Emery and Niemi played big in this period. However, McGinn, left alone in front (starting to really be a problem with our D-men) put in his own rebound. !-0 Sharks, and that’s how the period would end. The Hawks were out shot 17-8.
It was kind of weird playing the same Eastern Conference opponent twice in 7 days. This time, the Hawks traveled to New York to face off against the Islanders. Entering the contest, a couple of things stood out. Toews was on top of the leader board in the NHL in goals. Kane, who recently rejoined the Hawks Captain on the first line, was in the top spot in assists. (Again, I like when they are both on the first line together. Finding the other winger seems to be the challenge) For New York, Matt Moulson, the NHL player of the week has been on fire lately. He had at least 1 goal in 5 straight games, including a 4 goal effort against the Stars. In this game, Montoya, 5-3-2, (the Chicago area native) was matched up against Ray Emery (4-1-2). Emery has played well in both his starts and relief appearances the last couple of weeks. Crawford, let’s say, has not fared so well. This is exactly why a solid, experienced back up is a must for a team.
In the 1st period, Dave Bolland got sandwiched in the first 30 seconds of the game and was slow to get up. He did return, but has had a hard time this season recovering from one ailment only to have another one heaped on him. But, as they say, that’s hockey in the NHL. Stalberg started on the first line at the beginning, but was soon sent back down to the 4th, with Carcillo moving up to line one. The Hawks had a Penalty Kill situation (Yay, 29th place @ 75%, no longer in last—small victories) and came up successful. Later in the period, on a Blackhawks Power Play, Hossa became the 85th player to reach the 400 goal plateau! It was a weird centering/passing/bank it in of the goalie from behind the goal line, play. In his own words between the periods, “Not a pretty one.”
It looked like I was going to use the same title from a week ago (‘Yotes, YIKES!!) the way this thing started out on Monday night. As sharp and energetic as the Hawks looked on Saturday in St. Louis (5-2 win) they were equally as flat at the beginning of this one. Losing almost every board battle, getting physically outplayed, making horrible pass choices, and all around having a hard time staying up on their skates, was the early theme.The lines began, they way that they had evolved during the Blues game.. Most notably, Carcillo with Toews & Kane (I like that) on the first line, and Stalberg on the fourth line, where he deserves to be. The game began with Crawford in net against the “stick handling” Mike Smith.
In the 1st period, you wanted the Hawks to strike first this game. Phoenix has a great record (11-1-3) when scoring first. Unfortunately after a Montador blow out, a 2 on 1 resulted. Torres scored, 1-0 Coyotes. The Hawks had a Power Play opportunity (18.6%, 11th in the league and slowly improving as the season goes on) but failed to cash in. Vrbata made it 2-0 later on in the period. The Coyotes out shot the Hawks 15-11 during the period. As they went into the locker room, you felt fortunate to only be down by 2.
The Hawks beat the Islanders in a shootout on Friday night, 5-4. Yes, the 2 points are welcome and needed. However, ROW (regulation, overtime wins) took another hit. The game itself skated a fine line between exciting and frustrating. New York, with the WORST goals for average in the game at 1.95 scored twice in the first period. Again, it was not all Crawford’s fault. Cro did come up with some pretty big saves. The defense, however still needs to get tougher around the net.There have been too many uncontested, tap-in goals so far this season.
As for the lines, they went like this; 1) Stalberg-Toews-Kane. 2) Sharp-Kruger-Hossa. 3) Frolik-Bolland- Ben Smith (my man). 4) Carcillo-Mayers-Brunette. Defense wise, we seem to be settling in with Keith & Seabrook, and, Hlalmarsson & Leddy, first and second. In the revolving 3rd match up, last night it was Montador & O’Donnel.
In the net for New York was the Chicago are kid, Al Montoya (4-3-1). I had, by the way, another “Geez. Am I getting old” moment when they showed his family. I thought, wow his wife is pretty good looking and it turned out to be his mom…...
Patrick Kane will return back to wing in tonight’s game against the New York Islanders. United Center, puck hits the ice at 7:30 pm, local time. Kane will join the first line, centered by Toews. Viktor Stalberg will be on the other side. I don’t get it with Stalberg. Sure he has speed, but in my book he’s a 3rd line winger at best. I don’t know what they see in him. It’s certainly not point production. Marcus Kruger, speaking of lack of points, will center the 2nd line.
In response to the changes, Coach Q said,“Kane at center has been a good option for us. Kruger is playing well. It gives us a different look. We just wanted to try something else.”
On the switch, Toews commented, “I think we’ll just go back to our old ways and just go out there and make plays. Both guys want the puck more than the other. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. The good thing about playing with Kane is sometimes you can just kind of shy away from the puck and get away from all the attention and kind of sneak back door and hide sometimes.”
It will be nice to see the two reunited on the same line.
It was the classic “how will the home team do after returning from a long road trip” game. The Hawks (14 wins) were back at the United Center for the first time in weeks. They faced the Phoenix Coyotes (12 wins) on Tuesday night. Corey Crawford was back in net (for awhile) against the 11-4-3, mike Mike Smith. There were several line changes to start, and by the 3rd period even more. The most noticeable was both Marcus Kruger and Dave Bolland on the same line. Bolland played a wing, although both of then did take face offs. The key to this game was seeing who would score first. The Hawks 9-0-1 when striking first, or the Coyotes 10-1-3. Also, Power Plays and Penalty Kills would be far and few between with the Coyotes 1st in the league with 8.4 minutes, per game, and the Blackhawks at 9.5 minutes per game, tied for 3rd.
In the 1st period, I thought that the Hawks came out from the start with really good energy. The game was very fast paced and fast moving. There were one, maybe two whistles in the first 11 minutes. Those 11 minutes of clock time barely ate up 15 minutes of real time. Bad news for anyone who arrived late and stood in line at the concession counter. Phoenix’s Langkow scored first. The Hawks were attempting a line change on a puck that barely cleared center ice. This resulted in a 3 on 2 and as a result, 1-0 ‘Yotes. Phoenix led the shots on goal 8-7.
Since we’re a little more than a quarter of the way through the season, I thought it might be fun to review some of this years statistics. I have looked up (on both chicagoblackhawks.com and nhl.com) individual as well as team numbers. If any of the Hawks individual stats are in the top 10 of the NHL, that will also be noted. Let’s start with the team first.
The Hawks are dead center in the league (15) with a 17% effectiveness. This number has slowly been rising, week to week. They hovered around 8-9% the first month or so of the season. I still think they play down too low -behind the net and goal line corner- rather than moving the goalie from post to post up near the blue line.
This was real easy to look up. I started at the bottom and found them right away. 73%, dead last. The Hawks unlike the P.P. were actually on top the league at the beginning of the season, right around 92%. After the 5 of 6 P.P. performance by Vancouver a few weeks back, it all went down hill.
The Hawks, on their 6 game western road trip, ended up with 6 points. On Saturday night, they beat the L.A. Kings 2-1. I guess you’ll take .500 play on the road. Especially after losing 3 in a row to drop to 1-3, coming up with the split in the end was welcome. The game itself had it’s moments, but if I wanted to show someone who had never seen an NHL game, hockey for the first time, I would definitely not pick this game. A lot of the action seemed to take place from face off circles to face off circles, with a lot of missed passes and turnovers. The Hawks, 9-0-1 aginst the Kings in their last 10 games started Corey Crawford in net. I was a little surprised after playing the day before in Anaheim, that Cro got the start. Ray Emery has proven to be a trustworthy back up (forget that fiasco the other night with 9 goals given up by both the Hawks goalies in Edmonton). Jon Quick was between the pipes for L.A.
After the National Anthem (which went on forever) it was funny to hear Pat Foley verbalize my thoughts. “When it comes to the Anthem honey, it’s not about you”, said Foley. “I can’t wait to get back to the United Center and hear Jim Cornelison sing it ” The Hawks - 8-0-1 when scoring first, did just that. With Dave Bolland being pushed into the net on the left side, Andrew Brunette put the puck in on the right side. That was it for either team, score wise. Hawks out shot the Kings 10-6.
Game 5 of the “circus trip” was against the Ducks. The Hawks who had lost their previous 3 games, being out scored 15-4, were not looking good, to say the least. Corey Crawford started in net against Jonas Hiller. The Hawks, as you would expect, had their lines shaken up by Coach Q. The 3 B’s skated together, Bickell-Bolland-Brunette, and Sharp, Kane & Frolik formed another line. Seabrook was back in action for the Hawks “D” after his lower body inury.
The 1st period started HORRIBLE with the Ducks scoring twice in the first 3 minutes, All I could think was, “here we go again!” Then, a Hawks Penalty Kill (Last in the league @73.5%) was successful. Seconds later, Sharp scored on a rebound, 2-1. Things were looking a little better. The Hawks squandered 2 straight Power Plays, and you had the feeling that “missed opportunities” would be the key once again. Selanne made it 3-1, and Bolland answered, 3-2. You felt fortunate to be going into the locker room being down only one goal after one period.
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