Going into last night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning I figured that if Toews’ line (with arguably not the strongest defensive wingers) could hold it’s own, then Kane’s line would clean house and the Hawks should come away with 2 points. I guess I didn’t account for the meltdown of the Hawks’ checking line who had been relatively solid (although showing a few cracks as of late) until this point. Just keep repeating the company line, “3 out of 4 points ain’t bad.”
The fact of the matter is that the Hawks dominated play for most of the game. Unfortunately, they paid the price for forgetting about one of the league’s premier snipers, Steven Stamkos. How does that happen? Instead of breaking down the game, I’ll go straight to some player observations.
Viktor “Stone Cold” Stalberg
Stals had 15 – yes 15 – shots directed at the net last night and was officially credited with 7 SOG, but 0 goals. (Toews, by comparison, only had 1 SOG) Even though Stals had some prime chances, many of those shots were directly into the chest of Dwayne Roloson, blocked by the defense, or way off line. For a player who gets most of his opportunities in close, his career 8.5% Sh% is telling. He can’t finish – and with Toews and Brunette doing all the digging, a finisher is what that line needs. Toews deserves better. Am I unfairly blaming the player who has been forced into a spot that might be out of his class? Probably. I can (almost) admit that.
Aside from moving Sharp back to Toews’ wing, there are no other obvious answers on the roster, so let’s hope coach Quenneville makes a change or Stalberg is better up to the task in the future. I still firmly believe that he will be traded well in advance of the deadline for a top 6 veteran who can fill what is currently the biggest void on any line. Stalberg did lead the team with a +16 Corsi rating, so my criticism isn’t of his overall game, it’s just that of the top 6 forwards, he’s the last guy you want taking all those shots. Put down the coffee, Vik.
Nick Leddy-Sean O’Donnell
The pairing of Leddy (-4) and Sean O’Donnell (-2) didn’t even win the steak knives against the Lightning. As I stated when these two were paired in practice prior to the Panthers game, if you had problems with the Keith-Leddy pairing, have fun with this one, especially on the road where Q couldn’t protect them. Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher was much less concerned with matching forward lines than he was with who the Hawks had out there on D. Just about every time 6-8 stepped on the ice, he countered with the Stamkos line.
The second part of this is on Quenneville. From the end of the 1st period, he continued to match 6-8 with Bolland’s line (which normally skates with Seabrook-Hjalmarsson). He got away from this in the 3rd period, but the damage was already done. The only reason I can come up with is “balance,” so if someone wants to explain the rationale to me, I’m all ears.
On the bright side, 6-8 weren’t as bad as their Plus/Minus suggests (hence one of the reasons Plus/Minus isn’t always an accurate gauge of play over a small sample). Leddy had the lowest rate of SOG-Against of all defensemen. Unfortunately, only 7 of those shots were saved while 4 went in (.636 Sv% – this will happen when you leave cookies on the table for Stamkos. Ho! Ho! Ho!). 6-8 also had a strong edge in Corsi, mostly because they were out there with Toews’ line for much of the 1st period when they were generating lots of chances but couldn’t capitalize. (
Would the Hawks still have exploded for multiple goals in the 2nd period without compromising the defense by leaving Bolland’s line exposed? From the way they were rolling in the 1st, I think so. Still, if Q wanted to skate 4-7 with the top lines in the 2nd period, I don’t understand why he didn’t reunite Monty and OD in a shutdown role? Dropping Leddy down to the 3rd would’ve been a better option.
The 4th Line
When Boucher wasn’t chasing Leddy-O’Donnell, he got his top line out there often against Carcillo, Kruger and Mayers – and the Hawks 4th line more than held their own. And when Kruger and company was out against Tampa Bay’s 3rd or 4th line, they took advantage. Carcillo was 2nd on the team with 4 SOG and scored on a nifty break away.
Although Carcillo looked great on Kane’s wing, this is exactly what the 4th line needs; someone who can capitalize on limited opportunities and physically wear down the opposition. If Q moves Sharp off of Kane’s line, then Carcillo is the player to fill that spot. Other than that scenario, Carbomb should continue to prove an efficient bumslayer on the 4th line.
When you put these 3 together, you’re gonna get good results. In my opinion they have been more dominate than any other line that Q has assembled over the past 3 years – and the results back that up. Patrick Kane (+8, 15 pts, 13 games) and Marian Hossa (+7, 13 pts, 12 games) have been averaging better than a point per game and Patrick Sharp (+7) is one off that pace with 12 points in 13 games.
But the question remains, do you sacrifice the effectiveness of Toews’ line for one power line? Kane’s line seemed to control the puck just as well with Carcillo at RW. If the net result is the same there, then there’s no reason for Q not to give Toews the sniper he needs to take advantage of all the scoring chances he’s been dishing out.
The 3rd Line
They got their collective asses handed to them in Tampa. Sometimes legends in their own time aren’t always so legendary. That’s been the case recently for Dave Bolland. Dave Bolland was a -3 last night and is fighting it both offensively and defensively. He continues to choose to take 40 foot shots and has shown very little interest in the offensive zone – and if you subscribe to the theory that the 3rd line is only as good as Bolland makes it – his line is suffering because of it.
In the last 8 games, Bolly has a total of 2 points and was the main culprit on at least two Lightning goals, including the game winner in OT when Bolland decided to return to the bench for a new stick while the puck was still in the Chicago zone, leaving Leddy alone to face a 2 on 1. (I should add that Sharp was no help either as he drifted toward the blue line even as the two TB skaters headed past him toward the net. I also don’t understand why Leddy was out on that shift for almost a minute-and-a-half without a stoppage. During 5on5 that’s bad enough; during 4on4 that’s a disaster waiting to happen.)
Bickell. Bickell. Bickell. The book on Bryan has always been that he’s prone to lapses. After a stellar start to the season where he showed an increase in physicality to go along with 4 pts in the first 5 games, the guy has completely disappeared. Bickell has been a -7 with a 1 goal in his past 8 games and the hits have been less effective.
Although the defense of the 3rd line has been mostly acceptable, the quick strike counter punch hasn’t been there. Hey Bolly, leave the 40 footers to Bickell so we can all go back to just bitching about that. Um K?
Frolik, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with these two.
Sam Fels over at SecondCityHockey.com wrote a recent article regarding the unbearableness of Pat and Edzo that encompasses most of my thoughts. Although his knowledge is unquestionably extensive, I’ve never been a fan of Ed Olczyk in the booth. On the other hand, Foley was as much the face of the Blackhawks for me in my youth (since we used to sit right near him) as almost any player. For a guy who’s been around hockey for so many years I expect more than storytelling from him. I instead now often find myself shaking my head at some of his calls.
Last night was a prime example. While Foley was wetting his pants over Hjalmarsson’s hit on “Vinny” during Tampa Bay’s sole power play, most fans probably saw danger on the horizon. There’s a reason you don’t see many hits during a penalty kill. Hits often take you out of position – and defensive positioning is first and foremost on the PK.
When Hjammer left the slot to lay one on Lecavalier (who Toews already had covered), it started a series of unfortunate events that could have no other final result then the goal that quickly ensued. Going for the hit – and not the puck – only worsens a 5 on 4 to an even less desirable 4 on 3 situation. But to top it off, Hjammer’s hit also leveled Toews, leaving both Chicago players on their asses, and created a 4 on 2 which Tampa easily took advantage of. As Foley cheered.
Did I mention Duncan Keith was out of the lineup? Taking two games to OT without D2K and with the distraction of entertaining their dads isn’t anything to sneeze at. So repeat after me, “3 out of 4 points ain’t bad.”
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Topics: Brent Seabrook, Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks, Daniel Carcillo, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith, Game Summary, Hockey, Jamal Mayers, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Markus Kruger, Michael Frolik, NHL, Nick Leddy, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Pat Foley, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Sean O'donnell, Tampa Bay Lightning, Viktor Stalberg