Another third period collapse cost the Blackhawks a point on Saturday, and it was only due to remarkable goaltending on the part of Corey Crawford that they managed to keep it to one. But the story was different on Sunday, as the Blackhawks erupted for four goals in the third period, turning up the gas and stuffing the previous night’s loss down the Predators’ throats.
Additionally it was a weekend that showed some of the areas of weakness the Blackhawks need to work on: between the two games their superstar forwards scored only one of the ‘Hawks’ eight goals; penalty killing was heinous; and the predictability of the Blackhawks’ shootout participants means everyone but the greenest of rookie goaltenders knows who is shooting, in what order, and where they will be aiming for.
Saturday night started out well. For 50 minutes the Blackhawks played a tight defensive game that kept Nashville flummoxed. Strong play at the blue line, strong outlet passes and defensive rushes, excellent back-checking, and determined forechecking kept the play in the Preds’ half of the ice most of the first two-thirds of the game.
At that point Corey Crawford was still in shutout-land, with Tomas Kopecky and Viktor Stalberg lighting the lap in the first and second periods respectively. The team seemed to be rallying around their rookie goaltender, hoping to extend his streak. Through two periods Chicago had held Nashville to a total of 12 shots on goal.
Then, the Predators scored half-way through the third period, and everyone’s heads went immediately and directly up their asses. Less than three minutes later the game was tied, and the Blackhawks, once again, found themselves struggling to cling to a tie game and force overtime. That they did, but only barely, and they continued to look shaky in the five-minute OT. On to the shootout.
Now, Pekka Rinne is an impressive goaltender. But he is by no means impenetrable. Nonetheless, he managed to blank all three Chicago shooters, allowing the lone tally by Marcel Goc to ensure victory for Nashville. But the point here is important to emphasize: this shootout was over when Coach Joel Quenneville selected Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp as the first three shooters. Why? Because every team in the league has a video coach.
Among other things, a video coach puts together video compilations of teams’ shootout regulars and have the goaltenders review them before a game against a given opponent. The ‘Hawks shootout mainstays are not only consistent, they’re as predictable as a Jerry Lewis movie. Toews goes five-hole; Sharp dekes to his right; Kane goes top-shelf. Folks, *I* could stop those three guys — because like Pekka Rinne (and every other goalie in the league) I’ve watched the film. This needs to be fixed.
First, our top guys need some new moves. And not just one new move, about five or six. Next, we have other guys that can dent the twine in a shootout situation — USE THEM. Put Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, or even Brian Campbell or Duncan Keith out there in the second slot to make the goaltender go, “Huh?” This has to happen, and it has to happen very soon. It’s costing us points, and with the ‘Hawks still far from locking up a playoff spot, they are points we can’t afford to lose.
Which brings us to Sunday, when it appeared early on that the Blackhawks were going to fuck this up from beginning to end. Jonathan Toews took a hooking penalty 16 seconds in, and the Blackhawks penalty killing units were not up to the task so early in the game. 1 – 0 Predators. Dave Bolland scored four minutes later, but then with Duncan Keith in the box for holding the Predators took the lead again.
The second period the Blackhawks fared better, and around mid-period Dave Bolland t0ok a blue line feed from Tomas Kopecky and made defenseman Ryan Suter and goaltender Anders Lindback look like Pee-Wee girls with their skates on the wrong feet. That one was on hightlight reels all over the country last night and this morning. Simply beautiful.
Then, once again, the Predators took the lead in the third, 3 – 2 on J-P Dumont’s 6th of the year. It had all the tell-tale signs of a Blackhawks third-period collapse, only this time it was in front of the home town crowd. Well apparently at that point Troy Brouwer decided he’d had enough.
Brouwer showed us the bursts of speed, puckhandling skills and shooting prowess that we only see from him every once in a while. He literally took control of the game with two goals in 40 seconds, giving the Blackhawks the lead and sending the crowd into a frenzy. The ‘Hawks never looked back. Additional goals by Bickell and Toews sealed the deal, and the ‘Hawks rode Marty Turco’s 20-save performance to a much-needed victory over their division rivals.
Some final thoughts before I take the rest of the week off (as do the Blackhawks) to start my new job and get used to a life living out of a suitcase. This, fellas, is NOT the way you make the playoffs. Central Division teams are must-win games from here on out, and we only managed to gain a point on Nashville when the dust settled. That can’t happen again.
I’ve outlined my proposal for the shootout problem, and of course the million-dollar men basically took the weekend off — something else that has to change (Kane, Hossa, Sharp, I’m looking at you). And last year our penalty killing was, if not dominant, it was at least strong. This year we look like we are chasing the puck around our zone, instead of blocking lanes, shutting down seams and forcing bad passes. I have to bet that Coach Q will have the team working on the PK all week.
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