After two consecutive disappointing losses, the Chicago Blackhawks looked to turn things around Saturday afternoon in the Mile High City. They came up short again in a 4-2 loss. Here are my 5 Thoughts on the game.
1 – Chicago Blackhawks started hot but couldn’t tally.
After two lethargic starts for two losses, the ‘Hawks came out with energy to open the game against the Colorado Avalanche. However, Brandon Saad had a little too much energy and committed a penalty just 1:10 into the game.
Obviously, this is not the right way to start any game, let alone a game where you’re playing for your playoff qualification life. The great pace by both sides was entertaining, but this was a game that mattered, and the Chicago Blackhawks failed to get a quick lead in a stadium where the rare air will wear you down.
The first period was pretty much a synopsis of this season: a lot of bluster but no results.
2 – Crawford is their best penalty killer.
Not only did Brandon Saad commit the early penalty, he committed a second penalty in the same opening period. This put the ‘Hawks in a bind with their league-worst penalty kill against the league’s 8th best power play.
Corey Crawford came up big in the first period as their best penalty killer. Several big saves kept the ‘Hawks in the game while the penalty killers in front of Crawford were scrambling against the Av’s attack.
The Chicago Blackhawks went on to commit 5 penalties to make life even tougher for themselves in the rare air. Crawford managed to hold the Av’s at bay except for a 3-on-5 penalty kill in which Colin Wilson was able to deftly slide a perfect pass between Crawford pads. The recent solid play of Crawford has to be recognized as a big positive, first as a sign of his health and secondly as a huge benefit to the team.
3 – Brandon Saad often forgets it’s a team sport.
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Brandon Saad was noticeable on the ice with a lot of energy. However, his decision making was not at the same level. His two tripping penalties were momentum killers. He had several moments where he should have passed or shot and did the opposite. Additionally, he also had offensive zone time where he held on to the puck too long and failed to see open linemates.
Saad isn’t the scape goat for the loss, but he does need to be more consistent in a role as a top-six forward.
4 – Where’s the power play now?
The Chicago Blackhawks were a collective 1-for-19 on the power play in the previous eight games and went 0-for-3 against the Av’s. They’ve lost the magic they had found to catapult themselves from worst in the league to middle-of-the-pack.
The top unit’s adherence to the 1-3-1 overload has been lacking severely as they either stand still or aren’t in sync when they do move. It could be a case of complacency after finding so much success, or it could have to do with the over-use of Patrick Kane catching up to him physically. Or all of the above.
The second power play unit has been excruciatingly bad. Not much else to say about it.
This much is certain, good teams win with a good power play. The ‘Hawks…ahem.
5 – Erik again does Gustafsson things.
once again got on a scoresheet as he put away a blazing slapshot with 7:56 remaining in the game. His goal brought the ‘Hawks within one goal during a desperation surge. With his 16th goal of the season, he continues to dazzle offensively.
I’ve been a critic of his defensive play, but today he was a statistical darling with the 1 goal off 4 shots, 8 hits, 4 blocked shots, 0 turnovers, 2 takeaways, a plus-1 rating, and 25:51 ice time. This is the inconsistency you get from Mr. Gustafsson. He pretty much personifies the entire team: a lot of offensive pizzazz with questionable defense.
And so the Blackhawks will come home to host the same Av’s tomorrow night at the United Center. Colorado now holds the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference and could expand that lead to 8 points over the ‘Hawks with another victory on Sunday.
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Conversely, the Chicago Blackhawks could tighten up the race with a victory and pull within 4 points of the Av’s with 7 games remaining. It’s still a race, but it’s not encouraging. Let’s go, ‘Hawks.