It seems a little premature for patterns to be forming, only 5 games into the NHL season, but the Chicago Blackhawks seem to be stuck on one. Getting out to an early lead once again, Chicago needed to defend the advantage late, something they only did half the time in games previous. Against a much weaker Buffalo Sabres team, it shouldn’t seem like a big challenge, but the winless Sabres kept it interesting late.
The Blackhawks seemed to start off shaky, when a defensive-end turnover almost cost them a goal, 30 seconds into the game. A couple of consecutive Sabres penalties got the juices flowing for the Blackhawks, however, and the icebreaker was inevitable. Ben Smith did the deed just 9 minutes into the frame on a tip-in, his 5th career regular-season goal, and first of the season. A Sabres power-play gone wrong cued even more Chicago offense, and the Blackhawks had a penalty kill reminiscing the 2013 season. Just a minute later, Sabres captain Steve Ott hit Smith on the numbers, sending the Blackhawks’ winger to the room, and drawing a penalty, as well as a potential hearing from the Department of Player Safety. Buffalo would never gain any momentum back, and Chicago controlled the game heading into the dressing room, putting 20 shots on goal in 20 minutes.
The Blackhawks took to the ice for the second, looking to back up another strong first period. The level of domination wasn’t quite what it was before, but the offense was there. Chicago’s first real chance came about 5 minutes into the frame, when Marian Hossa`s shot was blocked miraculously by the Tyler Myers, with the shaft of his stick. Both teams settled down, and penalty calls were , with Marcus Kruger and Cody Hodgson heading off within half a minute of each other. Ryan Miller continued to keep the lead to one, with a couple big stops on Blackhawks defensemen. The Sabres finally started to push back as the second half of the game dawned, but Corey Crawford held strong. Once again, Buffalo’s penalty trouble continued to hurt them, as they took a holding call with a minute to go. Before the horn sounded, Patrick Kane extended the Blackhawks lead, with a open-net tally with 25 seconds to go. The Blackhawks would finish off the frame, and took a new-found 2-0 lead to the third period.
Chicago entered their fifth consecutive game of the season with a tie game or lead after 40 minutes. The Blackhawks’ focus now shifted to solid defensive play, and their speed wasn’t as prevalent as usual, trying to slow the pace down. The Blackhawks struggled to put the game away, and couldn’t buy a third goal, with more missed shots, notably one from Patrick Sharp. Drew Stafford finally broke the monotony, as the Sabres`ended Corey Crawford`s shutout bid, with 8 minutes to go. To many, it didn`t feel like it, but the `Hawks were in danger. Cody Hodgson had a brilliant chance to tie the score with 4 minutes remaining, but once again, Crawford bailed his team out with a huge stop. Miller left the net for the extra attacker, and for Chicago, the clock couldn’t count down fast enough. The buzzer finally sounded, and the Blackhawks scraped out a win at home, 2-1.
The Blackhawks`Penalty Kill showed signs of improvement in the contest, going 4-4 in the game, after letting 46% of their penalties end prematurely in the four games previous.
Youth was once again a factor, as Ben Smith notched his first goal of the season. The vibrant bottom-six was another asset for Chicago in this one, showing good puck management, and staying disciplined.
Defending the lead was sloppy once again, but the Blackhawks managed to hang on. What started as a slower-paced third period quickly turned into a Buffalo revolt, and when the extra attacker was out, there were some nervous moments.
The Blackhawks sweep the weekend series at home, and are back at it again on Tuesday, October 15, when they hit the road, taking on the Carolina Hurricanes.
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