Mar 29, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks forwardJonathan Toews
(19) celebrates after he scores during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Chicago wins 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! What a weekend for the Chicago Blackhawks! They fell to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets by a score of 5-2 on Friday night and everyone was up in arms. To make matters worse, the Minnesota Wild beat the LA Kings on Saturday and usurped Chicago’s third seed spot in the Central Division. To call Sunday’s tilt against the Winnipeg Jets a must win was an understatement. Well, the Hawks kept us all on the edge of our seats until the very end of the game…and won in dramatic fashion by a score of 4-3! It might not be the playoffs yet, but that certainly felt like a playoff game. Here are my 5 takeaways from this weekend’s games.
5. Tighten up on defense. Yes, this has been the story for some time now. It is the first thing Coach Q has talked about after these most recent losses. Tighten up on defense, and then go from there.
Let’s talk about a recent positive trend here (and yes there is one). The defensive pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya were the only two players that weren’t a zero or minus in the Blue Jackets tilt. They both finished with a +2 goal differential. Oduya uncharacteristically jumped in on the offensive end. He earned the primary assist on both Brandon Saad’s first goal, and the second tally by Jonathan Toews. Of course this was all made possible because Oduya knows he can rely on his partner to cover for him in the defensive end.
Hjalmarsson did what Hjalmarsson always does; he played a strong and tight defensive game. He went out with a hand injury late in the third, and did not practice on Sunday morning. But sure enough, the reliable Swede was back in the lineup against the Jets.
During the Jets game, this pairing not only kept up their solid play, but they continued to contribute offensively. It was Oduya’s shot that was deflected by Brad Richards to make the score 2-2 in the second period. And it was Hjalmarsson’s shot that Toew’s stick got a piece of for the game winner!
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Thank the Swedish gods for this pairing, because they are one of the best things the Hawks have going right now.
4. It’s not Corey Crawford’s fault! Yes, Corey Crawford gave up 4 goals on 13 shots in the match up against Columbus. But 2 of them were breakaways, and one was a deflection. Quenneville reiterated in his post-game interview that he could really only hold Crow accountable for the third goal; the others had a lot more to do with the defensive play (or lack thereof) in front of him.
Crawford gave up 3 goals during the Winnipeg tilt. But again, two of the three were power plays goals, and the other one was a short-handed breakaway.
Crawford is doing his job, and a good one at that. He is reliable and focused and gearing up for a playoff run. Many people called for Chewie (Scott Darling) to get the nod for this past game because he played so well in relief of Crow against Columbus. But I think Coach Q did the right thing by showing his confidence in his starting goaltender.
That being said, because it’s a back to back, I could see Chewie starting getting the nod tonight against the LA Kings. He stopped all 13 shots that were thrown at him on Friday night. He hasn’t given up a goal in the last 5 periods he’s been in net. Blackhawks fans are spoiled to have 2 great netminders to help get the job done.
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