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The Blackhawks have a little winning streak (of sorts) going.
Of sorts. So with that said, I’ll devote the rest of this blog to sorting out what’s going on (and not) with the Blackhawks, Sergio Leone style.
THE GOOD Corey Crawford. Crawford was very good last night, as was Antti Raanta the night before.
Hawk goaltending, pretty much as it has all year, has been solid of late. The first line. Dominant yet again. At times, opposing teams simply can’t get the puck away from Saad, Toews and Hossa. Last night, it led to a series of first period chances (on the same shift) for David Rundblad, and it was clear the Hawks were trying to get him the puck. The Pens and their media for giving the first two stars to Hawk players—not coincidentally, two members of the aforementioned first line (Hossa and Saad). The other member of that line, Jonathan Toews, scored a key shootout tally that helped the Hawks gain a critical extra point.
Rundblad himself falls somewhere between Good and Bad right now. The Hawks are clearly putting him into position to succeed—trying to set up his big shot in the offensive zone, pairing him with Duncan Keith to cover his deficiencies in the defensive zone. Maybe it all works out and Rundblad gains some confidence. I mean, no one has been more critical of him than I have. But you can’t argue with his strength shooting the biscuit. That said, my issue with him has always been from the red line back to the Hawk net. The thing about him that is so maddening is that his failings there almost seem to be from a lack of effort and intensity—which is unforgivable. But it’s also something that to some degree can be reversed and overcome—with confidence and maturity.
Also somewhere between Good, Bad, and Ugly was the play of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook when David Perron was left wide open in the slot. Perron put an amazing move on Hjalmarsson and got around both defenders and Crawford, but my colleague, Pens blogger Ryan “Gunner Staal” Wilson points out this morning, one of the Hawk defenders (I think Seabrook) may have slightly hooked Perron as he shot, sending the puck through the crease on what should have been an easy goal—that would have probably given the Pens a regulation win. No goal, no call, and therefore, you tip your cap to Seabrook for a great recovery. Faceoffs remain a season long strength of the Hawks, with Toews just destroying opposing pivots 15-7 in the dot last night. The penalty kill was spotless last night, stopping all 4 Penguin man advantages. And at 88.4%, the Hawks reclaim the top spot in the league in this important statistic.
THE BAD Michal Rozsival (-2) was on the ice for both Penguin goals—and overall the pairing of he and Johnny Oduya appears to be the weak link right now.
The Hawks were outshot, yet again, 35-28. Now, a team with the firepower of the Pens, even as hobbled as they are right now, is going to outshoot most teams most nights. That said, a positive shot margin is a direct indicator of the Hawks transition and possession game—their bread and butter. And really for the last month, it hasn’t been there, against good teams and bad ones, with the exception of other night at home against Arizona.
As I mentioned on the message board yesterday afternoon, I am hearing the Hawks are making inquiries about enigmatic Vancouver power forward Zack Kassian.
Back with more as I have it,