By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks ended their preseason schedule in Washington with a 4-1 loss to the Capitals. With Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson back in Chicago and Jimmy Hayes and Peter LeBlanc called back up from Rockford, the contest was a bit closer than the final tally would indicate.
The ‘Hawks started the game on their heels as Washington controlled the early going. Chicago’s best scoring chance in the opening minutes was a hustling move to the puck by Daniel Carcillo, who was stopped by Mike Green before he could finish his drive to the net.
Washington struck first midway through the period. Green faked out Marcus Kruger at the blue line for a clear shot at goal. Corey Crawford got his pads on the shot, but the puck trickled seductively towards the goal line until Mathieu Perreault tapped it in for the 1-0 Capitals lead. Chicago killed two penalties before Brooks Laich and new acquisition Joel Ward executed a nice give-and-go that resulted in Laich beating Crawford for Washington’s second goal.
The Blackhawks got on the board late in the period after Laich was boxed for interference at the 17 minute mark. Patrick Kane won the resulting faceoff and took the puck behind the net. After passing to Andrew Brunette, Kane got the puck back and found Marian Hossa coming in from the left side fourteen seconds into the power play.
Neither team could muster a goal in the second, though there were plenty of opportunities on both sides.
Rostislav Olesz was set to finish a nice play from linemates Jamal Mayers and Peter LeBlanc, but could not get elevation on his backhand and Michael Neuvirth stopped the attempt. At the midway point, Michael Frolik executed a nice pass to Bryan Bickell, who made a strong move, cutting to the net and beating Neuvirth only to find the post. The rebound hit the goalie in the back, but Neuvirth fell back into goal, obscuring any possible view of the puck crossing the line.
Alexander Ovechkin broke into the ‘Hawks zone and was looking to set up a two-on-one situation, but the play was broken up by Sean O’Donnell. Crawford stopped a point-blank attempt by Ovechkin with just over a minute to play in the period to keep the score 2-1 in favor of Washington.
Chicago had scoring chances from young players in the final period; Jimmy Hayes took a feed from Hossa with 12:49 left, but his wrister hit the post. Frolik’s steal in the offensive zone along with a Bickell pick led to Brandon Pirri getting the puck with a lot of room to set up a shot that failed to find the promise land.
With 7:23 remaining, LeBlanc was handed a game misconduct and five minute major penalty for a hit to the head of Washington’s Alexander Semin. Marian Hossa’s slashing penalty four minutes into the penalty kill set up a 5-on-3 advantage. This allowed Green, assisted by Ovechkin and former-Blackhawk Troy Brouwer, to beat Crawford stick side to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead with 3:11 to go.
Roman Hamrlik committed a delay of game infraction, and the ‘Hawks pulled Crawford. Chicago won the faceoff, but Steve Montador couldn’t settle a rolling puck. Jay Beagle came up with the takeaway and sealed the Blackhawks’ fate with a short-handed empty netter.
–Crawford looks ready for the games that count. He was barraged with shots all afternoon, stopping 32 of 35 attempts. The spot behind him is still up in the air.
—Ray Emery was in uniform behind Crawford Sunday. The team has pushed their decision between Emery and Alexander Salak back to the middle of this week. If Salak was the guy, why did Emery make the trip?
–I’d think that the longer this drags out, the better it is for Emery, as this suggests that a deal is being worked out.
–Pirri centered Frolik and Bickell in Bolland’s absence, while Marcus Kruger played with Hayes and LeBlanc in a possible Rockford preview. This is fitting in that Pirri has outplayed Kruger in the entirety of training camp. The ‘Hawks have insisted that the opportunities go to the deserving. Now’s their chance to back up that talk by sending Stan Bowman’s pet project to Rockford for awhile.
—Brandon Saad also stayed in Chicago, reportedly to work out the details of his entry contract. He looks to have a spot on the team, at least for the first few games.
–Bickell looked like his shot was heading over the line after it went from the post to Neuvirth’s back. If Neuvirth doesn’t tumble into the net, the call on the ice could very well have been overturned. As it was, it didn’t even merit a review from the officials.
–Hossa and Kane look to be ready for the season to start as well. Lots of strong opportunities for Hossa especially.
–It will be interesting how the league addresses the LeBlanc hit on Semin. Semin didn’t appear hurt upon getting off the deck, and the replay wasn’t at a great angle to see the point of contact. LeBlanc could have made a better move there, but it looked like Semin did a little acting as well. Still, a hit to the head is a hit to the head.