“You are what your record says you are.” By Bill Parcells’ standard, the Chicago Blackhawks are the best team in the National Hockey League right now at 8-2-2 (along with the Edmonton Oilers!) ‘Twasn’t pretty, but the Hawks grabbed another two points in Miami Thursday night, with Patrick Kane netting the shootout winner on a nifty five-hole forehand/backhand past Jacob Markstrom to edge the Florida Panthers, 3-2.
Do Panthers have Tallons?
When the schedule came out, this was marked as a “should win” for the Hawks, but, in what is a developing theme among opponents, the Panthers have gotten out of the gate in respectable fashion this year. Throw in the absence of Duncan Keith, and the “reunion” aspect of the meeting (erstwhile Hawks Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, and Jack Skille skating for Florida against former Panthers Michael Frolik and, lurking in the shadows of the press box, Rusty Olesz representing the Indianhead), and this figured to be an interesting game.
The Hawks scored the only goal of the first period on a nice touch pass from Andrew Brunette to Jonathan Toews, who made an indistinct kicking motion at a puck that he may have tapped in with his stick anyway.
Another developing theme this year is Corey Crawford, who stopped all fifteen Florida shots during a fairly even period.
The first half of the second period evoked the Stanley Cup team. Four lines rolling, dominating puck possession, more nice chemistry between Toews and Brunette, and a pretty cross-ice pass from Kane that Marian Hossa converted to make it 2-0 (kudos to a hustling Brunette[!!] for creating the passing lane.)
During this stretch, I couldn’t help but delight in the dilemma teams face with Toews and Kane on separate lines. As great as the duo has been together, perhaps they can each stretch their limbs a bit more when apart.
Put that coffee down?
Then my interest drifted. But in my defense, so did the Hawks’. Speaking of drifting, that’s an apt description of Kane’s backcheck in the last two minutes of the period, leaving Stephen Weiss open in front of the net to give the Panthers life.
And on to a third period best described as a trudge. The Hawks’ weren’t playing “not to lose” so much as “vewy vewy caweful,” slowing the puck down instead of trying to be the next team to score.
And it almost worked. But it didn’t. Ed Jovanovski redirected a shot from the point past Crawford with two minutes left. Sad trombone. But then Kaner made it all better in the shoot-out. And Bob’s your uncle.
Pekka Rinne just re-upped in Nashville for $7 mildo per year. Yeah, he’s better than Crawdaddy, but the way he’s playing, Crawford is a much better deal at $2.67 million.
Crow faced a season-high 43 shots tonight and was much more active behind the net than usual. Did I mention Keith was out?
How was the Keith hole covered? Brent Seabrook, 31 minutes. Niklas Hjalmarsson, 26. Nick Leddy, 24. Sean O’Donnell, 21. Steve Montador 15. Sami Lepisto, 12. After seeing Lepisto and Montador out together for a few shifts, I understand Quenneville’s apprehension with this pairing.
But overall, the defense deserves credit. Seabrook, despite a -2, logged big minutes. Hjalmalsson continues to develop according to our hopes, not our fears. O’Donnell, though limited, has been pretty reliable.
But Leddy deserves his own paragraph. He was credited with an assist on a fine clearing play in traffic in front to spring Kane. But he also triggered the first goal, shedding a forechecker behind the Hawks’ net and hitting O’Donnell in the open. O’D hoisted the puck ahead, where Toews created a turnover, while Leddy skated off to allow Montador to pick up the +1. As it is, Leddy’s +7 this year is one shy of the lead among NHL defenseman, and his eight points put him at #11 in scoring among d-men. The kid is bound to hit a rough patch here and there, but the unfolding story is remarkable.
Power play 0 for 1- penalty kill, 1 for 1. File this under dog bites man.
There were a lot of close call offsides that went against the Hawks last night, at least three involving Toews, and a similar “no offsides” call on what became the tying goal. Clearly, a major conspiracy is afoot.
Interesting interview with Patrick Sharp after the first period. Regarding the slow start to the game:
"“Kind of a sluggish start, lotta line changes, lotta changin’ on the fly, matchin’ lines, sometimes it’s difficult to get in the pace of the game, but no excuses…”"
Translation: easy uppy on the matchy uppy, Q.
Regarding left wing versus right wing:
"“I’m playing the off-wing [left] this time, which means I’m kinda opened up comin’ into the offensive zone…When you play the right side, your strong side, you’re a little stronger on the boards, you see the ice on your forehand…”"
I find this interesting for several reasons. First, Sharp has been most productive during his career as left wing with Toews and Kane, but he expresses a clear preference for the right wing here. Second, Kane and Hossa prefer the “off wing,” but I’m not sure what accounts for an individual’s preference.
Does it sound like Sharp is bucking for the right wing spot with Toews and Brunette? Move Daniel Carcillo back up with Kane and Hossa and drop Viktor Stalberg back to the fourth line? If so, I think Sharp is onto something.