By Jon Fromi
Monday night, the Chicago Blackhawks became the first NHL team to reach the 50-point mark this season, using a trio of second period goals to hand the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets a 4-1 loss.
The game, which was a bit lacking in execution at times, was noteworthy in a pair of goals from the red-hot Viktor Stalberg and another solid game in net by Corey Crawford.
The four-day layoff was apparent in the first period as the ‘Hawks struggled to hit tape on their passes. Stalberg set up Bryan Bickell with a nice pass in the early going which led to a hooking infraction by Antoine Vermette. After failing to score on the resulting power play, Rick Nash earned a roughing call in responding to Marcus Kruger with a punch to the head after Kruger head checked Nash over the boards and into the Hawks’ bench.
Chicago came up empty on their second man advantage. In fact, those first two power plays resulted in a single shot on Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason.
It was Columbus who threatened in the first, outshooting Chicago 13-3. R.J. Umberger turned a bouncing puck which suddenly landed near the crease into his team’s best scoring opportunity, but Crawford went post to post and turned away two shot attempts.
The Blackhawks got on the board in the fifth minute of the middle stanza. Patrick Sharp took a pass from Sean O’Donnell and carried it into the Columbus zone. He dished off to Marian Hossa and headed for the net. Hossa completed the give and go and Sharp re-directed the puck past Mason to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
Stalberg, back on the third line for the second straight game, got to work a few minutes later. Bringing the puck over the blue line, Stalberg held it on his stick for several seconds as he decided what he wanted to do with it. Skating hard to the right faceoff circle, he fired on Mason, followed his shot as it rebounded toward him (the original shot was blocked by Fedor Tyutin) and made good on the second chance for a 2-0 ‘Hawks advantage with 11:47 left.
It was Stalberg who added to the lead in the sixteenth minute after another drive to the net. His centering attempt to Bickell was deflected to the corner and up the boards. Duncan Keith held the puck in the Columbus zone and found Stalberg, who got the puck to Dave Bolland in the corner. With Bickell screening Mason, Stalberg got the puck back from Bolland and drew cord with 4:12 remaining to put the Blachkawks up 3-0.
Chicago came out sluggish in the final period and the Blue Jackets responded with 14 shots on goal. Columbus spoiled the shutout bid in the fourth minute when former Blackhawks defenseman James Wisniewski backhanded a rebound off of a Derek MacKenzie attempt past an out of position Crawford. MacKenzie’s shot had missed the net and rebounded out to Derek Dorsett, who whiffed on a bouncing puck but Wisniewski had charged into the slot upon gaining the Blackhawks’ zone.
Chicago killed a Blue Jackets’ power play opportunity and held firm despite not getting their first shot of the third period on Mason until the 9:15 mark. Vinny Proposal’s delay of game penalty provided the ‘Hawks for a chance to ice the game via the special teams, and the second unit responded.
Steve Montador moved out to the point and dished the puck to Andrew Brunette in the corner. Brunette quickly found Bolland behind the net and Hossa streaked to the net to wrist home Bolland’s centering pass for the final goal of the evening.
-Stalberg’s parents arrived in Chicago today and he responded with his third consecutive multi-point game. His offensive surge is a kick in the keister of the third line, which has become a threat to score in the last two games. How long does Stalberg stay on this line? It would help if the top line of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane can get in synch with Brunette. They weren’t last night.
-Crawford stopped 37 of 38 shots to earn the second star behind Stalberg. He followed up Wednesday’s win over Montreal with another solid effort. Joel Quenneville has two goalies playing well right now. He just has to strike the right balance between Crawford and Ray Emery.
-After missing the game with the Canadiens due to a head injury, Marcus Kruger was back in the lineup and was a lightning rod for contact at the hands of the Blue Jackets in the first period. I held my breath a few times, but Kruger came out of the gauntlet all right and logged 14:23 of ice time.
-Every Blackhawks player skated double digit minutes against Columbus. Brandon Pirri, recalled earlier in the day, centered the second line and played over twelve minutes. The top defensive pairing of Keith and Brent Seabrook was on the ice for about twenty-two minutes. The skater who was on the ice the shortest time? Stalberg, who got two goals in 10:57 of ice time.
-The ‘Hawks have led seventeen times heading into the third period this season. They are 16-0-1 in those games. The vast improvement in this area and re-establishing home dominance have been instrumental in Chicago sporting the league’s best mark.
-Daniel Carcillo skated in practice Monday, but was not yet cleared to play. He may be ready for action Wednesday when the Blackhawks host Los Angeles.