By Brad Vandenberk
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have reached the halfway point of the shortened NHL season and your Chicago Blackhawks have yet to lose a game in regulation. Let’s see a show of hands of how many people thought this would happen.
At this stage let’s take a minute to review the season preview that was posted back in January. There were a few statements that I made in believing what would make this Hawks team successful.
We will start from the goalies and make our way up to the forwards. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery were viewed as being the “unknown” factors. As I stated, it’s all about the defensive that plays in front of you. This is making the goaltending job a lot easier when your teammates are getting into shooting lanes and blocking shots. It also helps your confidence when you achieve your first shutout in over 2 years. Emery seemed to have returned back to his form from his days in Ottawa. Crawford took the “sophomore slump” and turned into being one of the best goaltenders in all of the NHL.
Michal Rozsival has been a pleasant surprise. He has been a great 5/6 defenseman and has also taking some pressure off young Nick Leddy. This tandem has played with confidence and has allowed Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to play some regular minutes versus the whole game.
If you can find a bad thing to say about Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, I would love to hear it. These two have been absolute work horses on the backend. They are depended on to penalty kill and their calm demeanor with the puck allows the forwards to break out with ease.
Duncs and Seabs speak for themselves, just unreal.
The four lines that coach Q has constructed have been a well balanced attack. With Marcus Kruger, centering your fourth line along side Micheal Frolik and either Brandon Bollig or Jamal Mayers, the speed on this fore check hinders most teams.
I mentioned that the third line could be the best in Chicago and they have yet to disappoint. Andrew Shaw as filled in beautifully as the pesky center man. Viktor Stalberg’s speed is troubling D men and Bryan Bickell has been aggressive and has found the back of the net with a few great goals at key times.
Dave Bolland has been a welcomed addition to the second line with the Patty’s (Sharp and Kane). He gets the puck to the goal scores and it shows with Kane leading the team with 12.
Brandon Saad, also known as man child, as been exactly what the doctor ordered. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have found their big body that will get in front of the net and battle along the boards getting them the puck. Toews and Hossa are doing the rest.
The depth on this team has been tested time and time again and yet the wins keep piling up. Dan Carcillo was absent for the first few weeks suffering an early season knee injury. Since being back, he has found his groove and recently scored a game winning goal. Aside from Carcillo, Sharp is now going to miss some time, 3-4 weeks to be exact. He took a hard hit against the boards during Wednesday’s game against the Avalanche. This doesn’t seem to worry the Hawks, they will just reach into their depth and pull out a winger to play alongside Bolland and Kane. Look it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no – it’s Steve Montador. He has been activated to join the roster and will play sooner than later, but where? Must be a tough job, finding spots for players when you’re on a 24 game point streak?
The Hawks were back on the road in Colorado on Friday night playing the same team that almost broke the beloved streak on Wednesday at the UC. Andrew Shaw left half way through the second period, after receiving an elbow from Peter Stastny. Hossa didn’t even play leaving after warm ups and Sharp suffered his shoulder injury. Crawford will be back in net and the Hawks are looking to continue this unbelievable streak. Semyon Varlamov went for the Avs again. Seabrook sported the “A” in the absence of Sharp. Steve Montador, Sheldon Brookbank and Jamal Mayers didn’t dress for the visitors.
The Hawks got going early with the man child breaking in on a 2 on 1 off an Avalanche sloppy line change. Bickell lined up next to Bolland and Kane taking the spot of the injured Sharp. Carcillo was also promoted, or demoted, depending on how you look at it, playing with Shaw and Stalberg.
Leddy gets the first penalty of the game making a defensive play on Chuck Kobasew. The Hawks kill the first penalty. Toews intercepts a pass from the Avs D and sends the puck into the zone. Saad drops it back to Toews, who gives it to Hossa and back to Toews, tick-tac-toe and it’s in the net. The Pepsi center erupts into a Go Hawks Go chant.
The Avs get their second chance on the power play with Bickell heading to the box for hooking John Mitchell. Matt Duchene fires the puck right off Paul Stastny’s stick and past Crawford tying it at 1-1. Crawford stays sharp stopping an Avs onslaught of shots. The period ends with the Hawks being outshot 10-6 and the score tied at 1.
The Hawks get their first power play attempt to open the second. Aaron Palushaj gets his stick up on Shaw and makes his way to the already opened penalty door. Hawks muster up a few shots but no quality scoring chances and the score remains tied. Later, Stalberg gets hit by a Oduya slap shot and barely makes his way to the bench. Meanwhile in the Hawks zone Erik Johnson finds a streaking Duchene who goes short side backhand and its 2-1 Avs.
33 seconds later Ryan O’Reilly finds Mitchell who rips it past Crawford and it’s 3-1. Stastny breaks in on a breakaway but Crawford stops him keeping this game within reach. Then Crawford gets called for tripping sending the Avs on another power play.
The wheels on the bus finally stop going round and round as 4 seconds into the man advantage, O’Reilly sends a laser past Crawford 4-1. The Hawks were playing through their first 3 goal deficit of the year. The Avs weren’t done there. Duchene beats Keith to an icing and hits Jamie Mcginn who roofs it over Crawford. The period ends with the Hawks wondering where they are and down 5-1.
The third saw Ray Emery head to the crease as the Hawks took the ice. Duchene tries to add to his already 4 point night sending a shot past Emery. Hawks head to the power play once again, as Toews draws a hooking call off the stick of Stastny. Kane sends a gorgeous pass over to Bolland but Varlamov slides across and makes a great save.
Just as the penalty ends, Frolik battles along the boards and keeps the puck in. Kruger finds Bickell who turns and beats Varlamov making the score 5-2 with 11:07 remaining in the streak.
Avs began to play on their heels allowing the Hawks to work off their momentum. It wasn’t long before the Avs gained back the pace. Gabriel Landeskog breaks up the ice and Hjalmarsson tries to slow down with a hook. Avs head to the power play once again. Emery makes multiple saves killing the penalty.
With just over five minutes remaining in the game, Landeskog throws an elbow to the back of Keith’s head. Bickell takes exception to this and goes right after the Avs captain. Both head to the box for a rough and a cross check with Bickell getting the 10 minute misconduct.
During the ensuing 4 on 4, P.A. Parenteau gets a great feed from Stastny and sends it past Emery. Cell phones around the world light up and the streak break at 24 games with a point. The Hawks suffer their first non-shootout loss of the season, losing 6-2.
-Hawks outshot the Avs 33-31
-Hawks go 0 for 2 on the power play with the Avs going 2 for 4.
-The Hawks were horrible in the faceoff dot, even Toews was under 50% winning only 10 of 22.
-Crawford suffered his first loss of the year.
-Keith led all Hawks with 24:22 of TOI. Seabrook was next with 20:58.
-The Hawks now fly back home to face the Oilers on Sunday night.
-The Hawks will be back in Colorado on Thursday of next week to seek revenge on the streak breaking Avalanche.