May 19, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) battles for the puck with Anaheim Ducks center Rickard Rakell (67) in the third overtime period in game two of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Marcus Kruger may be injured. Chicago’s fourth-line center took zero draws in Game 3 and played just 8:43. Considering he scored the game-winning goal in Game 2 and successfully shut down Ryan Getzlaf’s line during action in Anaheim, it is unlikely Kruger is in Q’s doghouse. So, if Kruger is too hurt to take faceoffs, the ’Hawks are facing a big issue. Andrew Shaw can take Kruger’s draws, though Shaw is more effective as a wing alongside Kruger and Andrew Desjardins. But Kruger is arguably one of the league’s most dominant defensive centers. Without the option of sending him out against the Getzlaf line at home, it forces Toews’ line to take on Getzlaf’s, which can lead to an offensive draw when the ’Hawks need goals from the Toews line. The ’Hawks can’t force Kruger to be healthy, but they need to test him early in Game 4 to see if he’s capable of taking draws without further injury (assuming he’s injured).
On the same note, Q’s scratching of Vermette when he wasn’t going to utilize Kruger at the dot is extremely poor roster management. Vermette has been one of the league’s top faceoff winners in these playoffs (59.6 percent success), and he could have stepped in nicely for Kruger at 4C in Game 3, allowing Shaw to stay on a third-line wing. Though the ’Hawks can win without dominating faceoffs, it doesn’t make things easier for their offensive attack.
The ’Hawks were still strong in possession. We’ve had all negative news up to this point, so let’s look at a positive takeaway from Game 3. Despite looking stuck in the mud for portions of the contest, Anaheim did nothing to blow the ’Hawks out of the water. Chicago dominated the Corsi events count 67-46. Twelve Chicago skaters were above zero in Corsi-for percentage, with Seabrook leading the way at a crazy plus-22. Only four Ducks avoided falling into negative figures in Corsi-for percentage. So the ’Hawks were still solid in puck possession, but they struggled to get pucks on net (and behind Andersen).
That’s the key issue moving forward. Chicago has just three even-strength goals in this series, and while Anaheim isn’t exactly racking up goals, the ’Hawks will need more than an even-strength goal per game to defeat the Ducks. With last change in Game 4, Q should be able to get matchups more suited for the ’Hawks to get pucks on Andersen, who just hasn’t been made to work enough in this series. Game 4 can be a turning point for generating offense from the team’s solid puck possession.
May 21, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) during the third period of game three of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. The Anaheim Ducks beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Corey Crawford is the ’Hawks’ star. Not a lot has been said about Chicago’s goaltender compared to earlier in the playoffs. But Crow deserves a ton of credit keeping the ’Hawks from being down 3-0. And he’s a key reason they can get back in and win this series. Three of the four goals Crow has allowed in the last two games have involved Ducks standing in front of him or deflecting shots, while the fourth was a Anaheim powerplay strike in Game 3. At the same time, he has compiled a save percentage of .926. He stopped 60 pucks in almost six periods of play during Game 2. His positioning has been generally solid, and he hasn’t given the Ducks a ton to shoot at. The defense has also consistently cleared pucks out from in front of him. If Crow continues playing well, it’ll be on the ’Hawks’ offense to ramp up production, which is a promising prospect if the lineup is correctly established.