By Brad Vandenberk
The Chicago Blackhawks last game before the All Star break took place Tuesday night at the United Center. They played host to the pesky Nashville Predators who they lost to just three nights ago in Nashville 5-2. That game saw the Hawks captain leave with a wrist injury. Jonathan Toews joined his teammates Patrick Sharp and Dan Carcillo on the injury reserve list. It was also mentioned that Toews would forego the All Star festivities this coming weekend due to the injury. With Captain Serious watching from the press box Rockford superstar Brandon Pirri was recalled to hopefully ignite the Hawks.
Predators’ goalie Pekka Rinne was looking for his ninth straight win on Tuesday with his second start in as many nights. The Preds beat Columbus 4-1 on Monday in Nashville. Although Corey Crawford was pulled during Saturday’s contest, he did get the start for the home team.
With Toews out and Pirri recalled, Coach Q was forced to get creative with his line up. This would be the first time since 2009 that the Hawks played five rookies in one game. Dave Bolland took the captain’s spot on the top line with Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg. Marcus Kruger centered the new alternate captain Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw. Pirri took Bolland’s spot on line 3 with Andrew Brunette and Jimmy Hayes on either side. Bryan Bickell was back on the fourth line with Jamal Mayers and Ben Smith. This would be the first time this season that Michael Frolik was a healthy scratch. Sami Lepisto and John Scott were the others.
The Hawks needed someone to step up in this game with both Toews and Sharp watching from the press box. Marcus Kruger had a great chance early in the first, as he walked out from behind the net and tried to tuck one past Rinne. Duncan Keith had a great shot from the point, but Rinne was there again. At the other end, Crawford tried to redeem his effort from Saturday and made a few beauty saves himself.
Youngster Shaw also had a great chance with a pass coming from Kruger. The Hawks were beginning to realize why Rinne has won seven straight games.
At the 8:11 mark of the period, Sean O’Donnell sent a blind past in front of the net and Craig Smith was there to put it past Crawford giving the Preds the early 1-0 advantage.
Stalberg breaks in and tries to tie the score, but again Rinne comes out with a poke check to keep the Preds up one. The Preds would add another goal before the period came to an end. Nick Leddy was muscled off the puck by Patric Hornqvist, who soccered the puck over to Mike Fisher who beat Crawford giving the Preds a 2-0 lead at the end of one. The Hawks and Preds both had 10 shots a piece in the opening frame.
The second period opened with the first penalty of the game. Mike Fisher was called for a trip on Kane. During the power play the Preds came up ice on a 2 on 1 with Leddy making a great effort to disrupt a possible shorthanded goal. The Preds were in every shooting lane possible and the Hawks were unable to record a shot on net. Just 2 minutes later Niklas Hjalmarsson was sent to the box for slashing. As the Hawks kill their first penalty the Preds ring one off the crossbar. The Hawks find themselves in more penalty trouble as Keith is whistled for interference in front of Crawford. This was the best penalty kill of the night for the Hawks as the Preds didn’t get any decent chances. Half way through the second period, the lines began to change and Coach Q tried to get something going and at some stages was double shifting Kane and barely allowing the fourth line on the ice.
Thirty-three minutes into the game, Steve Montador tried to get the UC crowd on their feet as he drops the gloves with newly acquired Predator Brandon Yip. The fight was short-lived but did give the Hawks some momentum as they started to get a few more pucks to the net. The period ended with the score remaining 2-0 and the Preds owned the shots advantage 10-7 thanks to the power plays.
Coach Q must have lit a fire in the dressing room as the Hawks came out flying to open the third period. Crawford kept his team in it, making a tremendous glove save on Fisher’s point blank shot. Fisher then fired the puck over the glass in his own end and headed to the penalty box for delay of game.
Finally, the Hawks get on the board with a power play tally. Hossa moves along the wall and finds Bolland in the slot, who lets a quick shot go which beats Rinne and pulls the Haws to within one with 12:40 remaining in the game.
Moments later, Martin Erat went to the box for a high stick and the Hawks were back on the power play looking to tie the game. Shaw got a great pass from Kane but sent it wide over the net. The power play was putting on a shooting clinic, but most shots were being block or firing wide.
With 4:43 left, Preds Captain Shea Weber was called for elbowing Shaw. The Hawks power play again had tons of movement but no quality chances to tie.
With just under two minutes to play, the Hawks get careless and are called for too many men on the ice when Stalberg played the puck too soon after jumping on the ice. This sent the Preds on a power play for the remainder of the game and forced the Hawks to pull Crawford. Colin Wilson finished the game when he found the empty cage and completed the Preds 3-1 victory.
–Marian Hossa wore a third alternate captain’s “A” in the absence of Toews.
-Nashville out shoots the Hawks 26-25. Duncan Keith led his team with 4.
-Hawks go 1 for4 on the power play with the Preds going 1 for 3.
-Keith led all Hawks again with 28:10 TOI.
-Rookie Andrew Shaw led all forwards with 21:37 TOI, followed by Marian Hossa 21:25 and Patrick Kane 20:53. Ben Smith skated a team-low 4:47, Jamal Mayers 5:57 and Bryan Bickell 6:02.
–Dave Bolland won 17 of 20 faceoffs. As a team, the Blackhawks won 63%.
-The Hawks are 9-15-3 with Toews out of the line up.
-Hawks now slip to fourth in the division and sixth in the conference as the Preds have 30 wins (64 pts) and the Hawks (64 pts) only having 29. St Louis (65 pts) got a single point taking the Penguins to a SO. Detroit (67 pts) will be at the Bell Center in Montreal Wednesday night to play the final scheduled game in the NHL before the All Star break this weekend in Ottawa.
-Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa will be taking part in the All Star weekend.
-This was the last home game for the Hawks, as they start a 9 game road trip next Tuesday (Jan 31st) travelling to the west coast and facing the Vancouver Canucks. Toews and Sharp are scheduled to make the trip but it is still undetermined when they will be in the line up.