Despite being outshot rather noticeably, the Chicago Blackhawks walked out of Boston’s TD Garden on Friday with a victory
Across two different posts Friday prior to the Chicago Blackhawks’ game against the Boston Bruins, I said if the Blackhawks could get some semblance of puck possession going, they’d be in pretty good shape.
Well, they didn’t do a whole lot of possessing until the third period, but they did just enough. Marian Hossa cashed in with less than two minutes to play in regulation on some nice plays from three younger teammates, Scott Darling turned in a strong effort and the Blackhawks managed another two points with a 1-0 win over the scuffling Bruins.
Darling’s probably going to wind up being the story of this game for making 30 saves and posting his second shutout of the season. And that’s very fair. Let’s take a look at three thoughts from this result as the Blackhawks head back to the United Center for a three-game homestand.
Still not a goalie controversy
Sorry, but Corey Crawford is still the incumbent netminder for the Blackhawks. Darling said as much after the game when pressed by the media:
But on a more practical note, when you backstop your team to a pair of Stanley Cups and finish top-five in Vezina Trophy voting the previous season, you get the benefit of the doubt after some rough outings.
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And that’s what Crow gets here despite Darling turning in a great performance. Thankfully, he faced less pressure as Friday’s game went on. Boston ended the first period with a 66.67 percent Corsi-for in 5-on-5 situations, and that number declined in each of the next two periods (55.17 for the second, 43.75 for the third).
But Darling still had to make some clutch stops as the Blackhawks got careless with the puck a few times. Posting a shutout on the road is never easy, either. Still, Darling didn’t totally have to stand on his head. He just had to be good enough to let Chicago’s offense eventually beat Tuukka Rask.
All this said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Darling got the next start. Coach Joel Quenneville is a man of the hot hand, and the Blackhawks face off against a pretty unspectacular Vancouver group at home. More starts for Darling not only keeps Crow rested for later in the season, but also motivated to perform better (things the Blackhawks need both of).
Bumbling and stumbling with the puck
I’ll finish this post on a positive note, so let’s get some negatives out of the way. The Blackhawks were outshot in this game 30-22, and they were lucky it wasn’t worse.
And it’s not like Boston was lighting it up all night. They had some good-to-great chances sprinkled throughout the game, but they just didn’t let the Blackhawks do much against Rask. After Ryan Hartman hit the post in the opening minute, the Blackhawks were pretty quiet until Hossa struck late.
The possession numbers and shot chart are both ugly. The only positive possession players at 5-on-5 in this game were the second-line trio of Patrick Kane (56.76), Artem Anisimov (55.00) and Artemi Panarin (54.29) to go with Brent Seabrook (51.28). And a lot of that success was achieved when shifts were available against Boston’s bottom six.
The numbers get as sour as Vincent Hinostroza’s 21.05 Corsi-for mark at evens, which is just insanely bad. So though the Blackhawks pulled out a win, the puck still was spending more time in the neutral zone and Blackhawks’ defensive end than near the opposing goalie.
Looking at the shot chart, a high number of Boston’s attempts at all situations came at the doorstep. Look at the Blackhawks’ density of shots. Most were coming from the point or the circle to Rask’s left. Very little action right in his grill.
Yes, this is a relative weakness of the Blackhawks in general, but if you’re going to have a line like Hartman-Jonathan Toews–Richard Panik and use guys like Jordin Tootoo, why is there no action on the opposing team’s doorstep? That makes no sense.
The Blackhawks are still tweaking their lineup, and therefore their offense. But the last few games have shown some pretty extreme examples of Chicago’s puck possession woes.
The goal worth two points
So four people deserve some praise for what wound up being the game-winning goal. Michal Kempny started things by ending a Boston attack and quickly moving the puck up ice to Hinostroza.
The speedy forward broke into the zone with Tanner Kero and Hossa, and while Hinostroza bobbled the puck somewhat, he at least skated it toward the net and eventually pushed it down lower to Kero.
Kero then made a quick, decisive pass right across the crease to a streaking Hossa, who tapped home the feed.
It’s amazing the Blackhawks were hardly able to do anything else like this throughout the rest of the game, considering how easy they made it look on this play. I know not every line Chicago deploys has the exact same makeup if a Hinostroza-Kero-Hossa line, but the Blackhawks should go to school on stuff like this and see what made it click.
This goal, paired with Darling’s effort, was enough to save the Blackhawks on Friday. But they still need a lot more going forward. Thankfully, January is getting closer to ending, which usually means the Blackhawks are getting closer to figuring out some things.