The Blackhawks were able to jump out to a healthy start in their Tuesday night matchup with the Canadiens, which ultimately meant the difference in their 4-2 victory.
The Blackhawks were able to leap-frog the Minnesota Wild and take control of the NHL Central Division this evening with their 4-2 victory over the trendy Montreal Canadiens who had won six out of their last seven games. There was no shortage of subplots to be mindful of throughout this tilt, a couple of which will likely affect the Hawks moving forward. Let’s touch on a few.
1. The Blackhawks’ defensive pairings were once again juggled.
Coaches Joel Quenneville and Mike Kitchen went ahead and did what they’ve become notorious for this time of the year and mixed up the Hawks’ top four pairings when they partnered Duncan Keith with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook with Johnny Oduya.
As I typically express, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with this decision initially. Consistency among defensive pairings is a crucial component of dependency on the back-end, and I am a huge proponent of the chemistry between Dunc and Seabs–the same can be said for Hjammer and Oduya. The mixup didn’t seem to hurt the Blackhawks tonight, as Johnny Oduya looked very comfortable next to Brent Seabrook. The top four was a +5 collectively on the night. Oduya had a goal, Keith and Hjalmarsson both sported assists.
Ultimately, it’s probably a good thing for the Blackhawks to know they have options in regards to the structure of their pairings, should a need present itself come playoff time.
2. Nick Schmaltz is proving he’s playoff ready.
I can’t say enough good things about the way Nick Schmaltz played in this game. He landed himself almost 17 minutes of ice-time and was consistently responsible yet dangerous. His assist on the Artemi Panarin goal was beautiful, and a perfect microcosm of his night-long display of versatility.
Schmaltz made a play in the first period in which he bailed out an ill-advised Brent Seabrook pass with an enormous back-checking effort. His well-rounded play on both sides of the puck was the story for the second half of this game, as the Artem Anisimov injury forced the natural center to come down and take some draws between Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. His face-off percentage wasn’t excellent, but he played responsible and consistent in both ends.
3. Brian Campbell is looking more confident.
No, seriously. Bear with me here Hawks fans. I’ve talked a lot previously about the comfort level that comes with Trevor van Riemsdyk consistently playing in a less strenuous role and with a steady partner in Brian Campbell–and I believe the same is applying for Soupy.
While Campbell may not have looked great on the Canadiens’ first goal tonight, I’d say it was more of a flukey bad-bounce than a defensive breakdown. Aside from that play, I thought #51 looked far faster and more confident with the puck, taking the liberty of moving the puck through center ice and gaining the Hawks a clean entrance into the offensive zone on multiple occasions. This definitely is at least partially the result of a growing comfort level playing next to TVR.
4. Ryan Hartman fills a role that isn’t for everyone.
Ryan Hartman did not end up on the scoresheet tonight. For that reason, his play might go forgotten or otherwise unnoticed by those scanning the box score; but make no mistake, Ryan Hartman’s continued selfless play is bailing the Blackhawks out of trouble in their own zone on a regular basis.
About half way through the first period Ryan Hartman willfully stood in front of the hardest shot in hockey in a Shea Weber point blast, all without flinching. He had, by my count, five crucial and selfless shot blocks tonight. On top of his selfless defensive play, he showcased ability to complement the Hawks’ top line and free up time and space for Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. The Ryan Hartman/Andrew Shaw debate can be comfortably put to rest.
5. Keep an eye on the Anisimov injury.
As I write this, tweets from credible media sources are confirming that Coach Quenneville has informed them that Artem Anisimov has been listed as day-to-day, and that the injury is likely “nothing serious”. This should come as an infinitely elating relief, as the video clips from that scary moment looked anything but promising.
That said, the Hawks are definitely not out of the woods. I would keep an eye on this injury, purely because anything that leaves the team without the centerpiece of what is arguably the best line in hockey is troubling. There is a short window ahead as the playoffs loom closer, and it’s hard to envision the team mounting a deep run without Artem Anisimov.
- Artemi Panarin is looking like his old self again, and now has three goals in his last three games.
- I liked the Hawks shot selection tonight. The execution wasn’t infallible, but they were opening up high-percentage lanes and shooting from good spots.
- Patrick Kane is now in the hunt for another Art Ross trophy, as his goal and two assists puts him atop the NHL scoring leaders with 76 points
- Corey Crawford looked great tonight, as has become the norm. He stopped 40 of 42 shots, healthy .952 save percentage.
- The urgency of the Anisimov injury is amplified by the Hawks’ season long face-off struggles. They went just 39% at the dot tonight. That’s not good enough.
Tomorrow night, March 15th, I will be joining the awesome crew over at Puckin’ Hostile to talk everything Blackhawks and NHL related. Be sure to tune in and discover my less than radio-worthy voice.
More to come soon.