Chicago Blackhawks’ Quick Observations From Win Over Caps

Feb 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; The Chicago Blackhawks celebrate their victory following the third period against the Washington Capitals at the United Center. Chicago won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; The Chicago Blackhawks celebrate their victory following the third period against the Washington Capitals at the United Center. Chicago won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Some Chicago Blackhawks fans may have missed today’s game against the league-leading Washington Capitals. That can be excused (somewhat), considering it was a morning matinee on NBC. But you missed quite the affair, as the Blackhawks pulled out a 3-2 win to retake the Central Division lead, by one point over Dallas (which has a game in hand).

It looked like this was going to be a rough outing initially, as the Blackhawks looked out of sorts in the first period while the Capitals came ready to play. I would like to say some of the Blackhawks’ appearance was due to adjustments to the additions of Andrew Ladd and Tomas Fleischmann (Dale Weise is not yet with the team due to visa issues, and Christian Ehrhoff did not play), but those two looked totally fine. It was the defense that was once again sketchy, and the Caps’ league-leading powerplay converted an early bid after Corey Crawford made some good saves.

The Blackhawks immediately got that goal back when Trevor van Riemsdyk, who was caught staring on the Washington powerplay goal, made a heads-up play at the blue line and found Patrick Kane all alone in front of Braden Holtby. Kane easily beat the keeper and tied the contest.

Chicago looked a lot better over the final 40 minutes, during which goals from Jonathan Toews (on the powerplay) and Dennis Rasmussen put the team ahead 3-1. That lead held until late in the third, when Washington received a 5-on-3 powerplay and pulled Holtby to make it a 6-on-3. Though they scored quickly in that case, Crawford and the Blackhawks held firm the rest of the way to capture two points.

Let’s get to some observations from today’s game at the United Center.

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— The Blackhawks’ first goal doesn’t happen without Artem Anisimov, who was an absolute monster on the forecheck today. He made a simple play near the blue line to tap the puck off a Washington player’s stick, after which it rolled to TVR, who made a seeing-eye pass to Kane. Anisimov was among the Blackhawks’ best players on the ice against Washington, which is obviously great to see considering who he plays between.

— Speaking of the forecheck, in the final 40 minutes, the Blackhawks were nails in that department. Outside Anisimov, the first and third lines were hemming the Capitals in their own zone whenever possible. The third line of Andrew DesjardinsTeuvo Teravainen-Fleischmann was monstrous on the forecheck and getting good scoring chances off it. Desjardins in particular had a sick play in which he almost toe-dragged Washington into oblivion following the line’s forechecking efforts. His ensuing shot clanged off the post, unfortunately.

— Ladd was the big trade acquisition of the last two days, and while he was fine against the Caps (recording a powerplay assist), Fleischmann was by far the more impressive of the two new guys. You can tell he and Teuvo have some great chemistry, and you’d have to imagine that’s only going to improve when Weise joins the club (Weise and Fleischmann played together in Montreal). That’s nothing against Desjardins, though, who had a nice game (minus a dumb penalty).

— I saw a tweet during the game that suggested Teuvo looks as confident and comfortable on the ice as he ever has thanks to a “vote of confidence” from Stan Bowman and Co. And I have to agree. He was everywhere and probably the team’s best player, earning him the No. 1 star despite having just an assist. That assist was sweet, though, as he showed his incredible on-ice vision by passing up an obvious shot attempt for a dish to Toews, who converted on one of the easier scoring chances he’ll ever have. These trades are certainly going to make the Blackhawks’ bottom six more of a threat.

— I hated the Blackhawks’ fourth line in the opening 20, but it too picked up the pace as the game went on. The trio created the final goal when Richard Panik and Brandon Mashinter went in and outworked two Capitals in one of the corners behind Holtby. Panik managed to perfectly kick the puck on to Rasmussen’s stick, and Moose slammed it past an unassuming Holtby. Pretty neat play.

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— Speaking of that play, it highlighted some officiating issues today. Usually, when people complain about the refs, it has to do with penalties. Today, however, this group of officials overturned a very large number of iffy icing calls, letting play continue time and again. Two of those waved-off icings led to Blackhawks goals — the first when Toews drew a penalty after a waved-off icing, which led to his own powerplay goal, and the second when Panik and Mashinter were able to crash the boards for the puck after icing was waved off.

— But don’t worry, the Blackhawks had two weird officiating moments of their own. The first was an “offsides” call in the second period that made absolutely no sense, as the whistle was blown while Washington had the puck, but the ensuing faceoff was taken in front of Crawford. Alex Ovechkin had a sweet scoring bid right off that faceoff, but thankfully Crow snagged it. The second was Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s phantom “unsportsmanlike conduct” call that led to Washington’s 6-on-3. I really wonder what Hjammer could have possibly said or done to earn a penalty in that situation.

— Holtby was as advertised, and I’d say none of the three goals against him were really his fault. Crow was also strong, especially in the first period, when the Blackhawks’ defense was sleepy. One complaint: It’s really hard to blame a goaltender for allowing a 6-on-3 strike, but Crow has to do a better job hugging his post. Evgeny Kuznetsov simply banked the puck off Crow’s backside for the goal, and that’s the second time in recent games we’ve seen that happen with Crow. Other than that, more stellar work from the underappreciated Chicago keeper.

What were you reactions to today’s Blackhawks win? Let us know in the comments.