2 – Erik Gustaffson’s quietly good game
We’ve harped on this guy a lot for his poor defensive play for much of the season, and rightfully so. Whenever the Chicago Blackhawks give up a goal, it feels like he’s always the one turning the puck over or he’s never in the right spot defensively.
But lately, Erik Gustafsson has been the best defenseman on the ice for the ‘Hawks. This afternoon’s game was no different.
Gustafsson was one of three players and two defensemen with a Corsi-for percentage at 50 or above. At all strengths, he had the Corsi-for percentage on the entire team (57.78). He only allowed eight scoring chances against and was on the ice for 13 scoring chances for. Additionally, he was on the ice for seven high-danger scoring chances for while only allowing three against. Only Slater Koekkekk had better numbers than him in those categories, but he played fewer minutes.
And yes, his usage was probably a factor, too. The Blackhawks limited the Gustafsson-Koekkekk pairing, giving Keith-Seabrook and Dahlstrom-Murphy heavy minutes. But maybe that’s what Gustafsson needs to be: a third-pairing defenseman who quarterbacks the power play. It looks like the coaching staff finally figured out what he is and how to utilize him properly, which could end up being great in the long run.
3 – Cam Ward keeps the Blackhawks in the game
While I stand by what I said earlier about the win streak still being alive thanks to the second line, we also need to acknowledge how great Cam Ward was tonight and his recent play. There were a couple of scary moments in this game when it looked like the Red Wings were going to trump the Blackhawks: the Christoffer Ehn goal and the Gustav Nyquist goal, both of which brought Detroit within one.
Each time, Cam Ward rebounded with a series of fantastic saves. In the third period alone, Ward stopped 13 of 14 shots and faced 10 high-danger scoring chances. Even though the Red Wings spent a lot of that period in the offensive zone and frequently hounded the goalmouth, the goaltending kept the Blackhawks in it tonight.
In his last five starts, Ward has faced 35 or more shots three times, including 45 tonight. He has a .915 save percentage during that stretch. It’s not fantastic, but it’s above average. That’s what the Chicago Blackhawks need right now from their goaltenders.