Plenty of positives and plenty of negatives to take away from the Blackhawks’ 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues Sunday night, but a strong third period earned them two points.
1.) Defensive pairings disrupted.
About twenty minutes before puck-drop Sunday evening, the Blackhawks released their lineups for the night’s matchup with the Blues. I was more interested than I typically might be in regards to the defense pairings for the Hawks purely because the absence of Niklas Hjalmarsson meant they’d be shook up.
To start the game, coaches Joel Quenneville and Mike Kitchen had Trevor van Riemsdyk paired with Duncan Keith. This stuck out. Realistically, Hjalmarsson’s absence meant either the Hawks would reunite Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as a top-pairing, or they would move either TVR or Michal Kempny up the lineup to provide more defensive balance. The decision to pair TVR with Duncan Keith concerned me for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, we’ve seen the wonders that some chemistry can do for defensive pairings. I mentioned in my previous analysis how much better Michal Kempny has looked of late now that he’s been consistently (and almost exclusively) playing with Brent Seabrook. The same goes for Trevor van Riemsdyk. He’s simply looked much more comfortable with Brian Campbell. His risky style of defending is complemented more by Brian Campbell than Duncan Keith–purely because Campbell has become more of a stay-home defenseman in his aging years.
The first two periods proved the value of that chemistry. Simply put, TVR looked awful. His turnover in the first led directly to the Blues’ first goal, and a penalty he took in the offensive zone led to their second. He simply did not look good playing with Duncan Keith, and it wasn’t until the Hawks put him back with Campbell (and subsequently Keith with Seabrook) that he looked acceptable.
Lastly here, I’ll say again, TVR is getting more playing time than is good for him. He played over 20 minutes tonight, Michal Kempny played 14. Kempny was a +1. Can’t figure out why his leash is so long, something young defensemen have historically not gotten from Quenneville (Nick Leddy comes to mind).
2.) Patrick Kane played the entire night.
It felt like Patrick Kane did not come off of the ice in this one, and he was dangerous throughout. Kane led all forwards with over 21 minutes of playing time, as only Jonathan Toews came close with a little over 18. Kane had a goal and two assists. Kaner being on his game and being able to double-shift throughout the third period made it nearly impossible for Blues’ coach Mike Yeo to maintain the defensive match-ups he would’ve preferred.
3.) Anisimov is underappreciated.
Artem Anisimov may be the most quietly dependable and productive player on the 2016-17 Chicago Blackhawks. He plays on arguably the most productive line in hockey, and yet his name is rarely discussed as a crucial component to the Hawks’ success. His responsible and quiet play allows Kane and Artemi Panarin to play more loosely, which often leads to odd-man breaks. His goal tonight earned the Hawks a regulation victory in another one of these measuring-stick games. Anisimov has 21 goals and 21 assists this season. He’s 4th in points on the Blackhawks.
4.) Scott Darling is starter material.
Scott Darling’s play in this one speaks for itself. He made a garden variety of spectacular saves and absolutely was a deciding factor in the outcome of the game. His vision and rebound control has gotten exponentially better since his debut in a Hawks uniform. Darling sported a .938 save percentage tonight, stopping 30 of 32 Blues shots.
Darling improves to 14-5 on the season and continues to make the case for his ability to be a #1 goaltender in the NHL. Scotty stood on his head in the third and carried the Hawks defensively while they made a mid-game adjustment of their D-pairings. Super good to know the Hawks can lean on him in the event of an unforeseen Crawford ailment.
5.) Shutting down Tarasenko is the key.
Vladimir Tarasenko has been the Blues’ most effective weapon when playing the Blackhawks for the last three years or so. He was arguably the determining factor in the Hawks/Blues series last year, and he had 4 goals and 2 assists in just 4 games vs. the Blackhawks this year going into tonight’s game. The Hawks’ ability to shut him down defensively and force the Blues to rely on some notoriously questionable secondary scoring was a huge key to their victory tonight. Tarasenko was kept off the score-sheet tonight, and was a -1. That is a huge exorcism for the Blackhawks.
-Jonathan Toews’ line with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik is literally becoming unstoppable. They were fantastic tonight again, and Schmaltz’ patience and vision with the puck just keeps turning into goals.
-This game showed the heart of the Blackhawks. Their ability to find a way to win without Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford says a lot.
-Artemi Panarin is in on the fun. Bread Man’s assist brings him to 7 points in his last 7 games, something you haven’t heard a lot about considering how well Toews’ line has been.
I’ll have more soon. Thanks to our buddies at We’re True Chicago Blackhawk Fans for sharing.