By Brad Gardner
The Chicago Blackhawks set a new franchise record by getting off to a 6-0 start to the 2013 season with a win on Sunday at the United Center over the rival Detroit Red Wings.
Corey Crawford stopped 29 shots and Nick Leddy was the overtime hero by beating Jimmy Howard off the rush to extend the Hawks excellent run to open the season.
Both teams wanted a good start in the first period. The Red Wings, who only practiced Saturday after winning 5-3 over the Wild on Friday, had been inconsistent in the first period in the early going this season, while the Blackhawks were coming off a first-period pummeling at the hands of the Blue Jackets in their game Saturday.
Although the first period ended with 11 shots apiece, the Blackhawks came away with the one-goal advantage off a power play goal from the stick of Duncan Keith. The Red Wings crowded below the dots on the Hawks’ dump in, leaving the Chicago defensive pair plenty of time and space when the puck made its way to the point. Brent Seabrook passed to Keith, who was able to skate in to the left faceoff dot and unleash a slap shot to the short side and over the shoulder of Jimmy Howard to get the Hawks on the board 2:24 into the game.
Detroit came up short on two power play opportunities of their own in the first, giving the home team the distinct advantage in the opening frame.
The middle frame was a different story as a string of Chicago penalties gave Detroit four opportunities on the power play, including over 40 seconds with a 5-on-3 advantage. Despite plenty of offensive zone time, Detroit managed only three shots on goal during their power plays in the second period. That said, the shorthanded time effectively disrupted whatever offensive momentum the Hawks had built in the first and the club was lucky to escape the middle frame still leading by one goal.
Detroit carried play in the early-going of the third period, spending a lot of time in the Chicago zone and forcing several icing calls against the Hawks. Johan Franzen eventually cashed in on the pressure, putting a loose puck between the legs of Crawford to tie the score at 1-1. Henrik Zetterberg threw the puck towards the crease and Damien Brunner swept it towards the net front. Keith got a piece of the puck, which resulted in the loose change, and the defenseman seemed to block Crawford’s view of the puck once it was on Franzen’s stick.
Neither team could break the tie through the remained of the third. The Blackhawks had two power play chances but could not convert, although they were finally able to establish some offensive zone pressure on their second chance in the final five minutes of regulation. Brandon Saad narrowly missed his first NHL goal on that final power play when he deflected a Keith slap shot off the inside of the post and through the crease.
The Blackhawks had more opportunities in the overtime than Detroit, although Crawford came up huge on a great chance from Franzen in the middle of the ice. The game-winning goal began with Viktor Stalberg entering the zone. Toews circled behind but instead of receiving a drop pass, Stalberg sent the puck across the zone to Leddy. He ripped a slap shot from the left circle to the far side, and even though Howard got a piece of it, the puck still beat him under the glove. Brunner may have deflected the shot as he tried to make a check on Leddy and made it a harder save for Howard.
– Crawford was often excellent in this one, beaten only once when Franzen found a loose puck in front. The 20 blocked shots from the team in front of him did not hurt either, especially considering the number of minutes the Hawks spent shorthanded in this one.
– Both Blackhawks goals came from defensemen and both came from the same area on the ice. Keith and Leddy will not always have space to skate in and shoot from the circles, but good sign for Hawks to see them both playing aggressively in the offensive zone and taking advantage of the open ice behind the Detroit defense.
– The Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik penalty kill pairing played over five minutes of shorthanded ice time through the first two periods and were a big part of that unit finishing the game with an unblemished record against six Detroit power play opportunities. The PK unit, having successfully killed off 22 of 23 advantages (95.6%) this season, now ranks third in the league behind two perfect units – the Boston Bruins are perfect in 17 times shorthanded as are the New York Islanders through 13 kills.
– The Hawks power play (1-of-3 on Sunday) got back on the board after being held without a conversion for the first time all season on Saturday. That unit is now 7-of-27 (25.9%) on the season but still ranks just outside the top ten in the league.
– The parade to the penalty box in the second period isn’t going to inspire a lot of confidence and neither will the distinct advantage in giveaways – 12 to 3 – against a team that thrives off the counterattack. The Hawks were able to counteract some of those anti-puck possession numbers with a 13 to 5 advantage in takeaways.
– 3 stars of the game: 3. Marcus Kruger… 2. Pavel Datsyuk… 1. Corey Crawford
– The Blackhawks carried over the same lineup from the win in Columbus on Saturday, as Michal Rozsival and Brandon Bollig were the healthy scratches. Dan Carcillo (knee) remains out of the lineup.
– If trying to move on after the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom was not a steep enough task, the Red Wings blue line has been hit hard by injuries and was without Ian White (lacerated leg) and Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) against Chicago. Darren Helm (back) and Jonas Gustavsson (groin) also sat out on Sunday. Jonathan Ericsson (shoulder) played in his first game since opening night.
– The Blackhawks kick off the six-game road trip at 7pm Wednesday night in Minnesota.