By Michael Calvert
Last night’s game started out almost laughably one-sided in the Hawks favor. Buffalo was unable to generate any type of consistency in any facet of the game. Fortunately, for the Sabres, Ryan Miller was spectacular. Fortunately, for the Hawks, so too was Corey Crawford.
1st period: The Blackhawks started the game with Brandon Saad on Jonathan Toews wing, along with Patrick Kane. This line, up until jumbled again, was dominant on most every shift they were on the ice for. One more interesting line change was Marcus Kruger playing second line center. Kruger looked good in the second line center position, ending the night winning 45% of his faceoffs taken.
At 2:40 the Hawks drew their first of 4 first period Sabres penalties, this one against Zemgus Girgensons for tripping on Nordstrom. Bickell, Kane and Toews forwarded the first power play unit with Sharp and Keith running the point. 45 seconds into the power play, Cody Hodgson gains puck possession and broke into the Hawks zone for a seeming breakaway when Bickell comes up on right shoulder and pretty much destroys him. This might be the last impact on the game Bickell had, certainly not Hodgson.
The second power play unit forwarded by Shaw, Hossa and Saad was far more effective and it took one of Ryan Miller’s many excellent saves to keep an Andrew Shaw doorstep chance out of the net with two seconds left in the 1st power play.
At 6:37 the Sabres were back into the box on Tyler Myers roughing of Patrick Sharp. The second power play like the first resulted in no goals for the Hawks, however, they were able to generate more scoring opportunities the second time around.
The Hawks were able to keep the momentum from the second power play and netted their first goal just 40 seconds after its conclusion. The goal came off of a Ben Smith tip in of Brent Seabrook’s slapper. Ben Smith was all over the offensive zone prior to that goal.
At 10:05 the Sabres got their first opportunity with the man advantage after a poor turnover by Kane in the neutral zone forced Hjalmarsson to hold Marcus Foligno. The Sabres proceeded to show the Hawks how to really put up a useless power play. The Hawks actually controlled the kill by getting 3 high quality scoring chances.
Worth noting, on the Hawks 4th power play of the period, the Hawks close out with Brandon Pirri centering Bollig and Nordstrom, maybe this was Q just giving them a pat on the back for killing penalties?
Blackhawks outshoot the Sabres 20-6 in the period, looks like the route is on.
2nd period: The Second period was highlighted by a number of fantastic saves by both Crawford and Miller. The Hawks looked to be getting back on the scorers sheet at just under the first minute when Toews put a perfect pass from behind the net to Marian Hossa standing on the doorstep. Miller was up to the task yet again. It’s worth mentioning that Miller probably made 8-10 saves that would be described as player x stopped from the doorstep. Soon thereafter not to be outdone by his all star goalie, Tyler Myers stops a Hossa shot with his own nifty stick save, once again on the doorstep. Off the rebound from Tyler Myers stick Patrick Sharp fired a slapper that Miller was able to save. It was amazing the Hawks did not score on this play, give credit to Miller and some Johnny on the spot work from his d men.
The game was pretty back and forth for a while with the Hawks and Sabres trading useless penalties. At 13:50, Cody Hodgson looked to tie the game up with two great back to back scoring chances, but Crawford was game for both, the second chance for Hodgson took a great Crawford save. Two minutes later Hodgson was right back at it when he placed a perfect pass to Thomas Vanek and again Crawford, doing his best Ryan Miller impersonation, stopped Vanek’s one timer.
At 18:41 on the Hawks 6th power play opportunity, the Hawks showed the offensive flair they seem to be more than capable of when even strength but rarely on the power play. Patrick Sharp put a perfect cross ice pass to Patrick Kane, and even superman Ryan Miller could do nothing from that distance on Kane, one timer top shelf, Hawks 2-0.
The Sabres showed some life in the second period and were only outshot a somewhat respectable 16-10.
3rd period: Bickell moved back to the first line switching with Saad; Sabres dominate 3rd period, coincidence?
To document every great scoring chance the Hawks had in this game would take about four chapters worth of game recap, it just seemed as though they had scoring chance at will last night. However, in the third the best chances seemed to come from the Sabres.
At 11:49 with what seemed ultimately inevitable Hodgson beats Oduya on a great move then on an equally impressive pass, hits Drew Stafford wide open, and Crawford couldn’t close the barn sized opening quickly enough. Hawks 2 Sabres 1. It’s a shame that Crawford lost his shutout, but the Sabres definitely got their game going and weren’t deserving of a goose egg.
15:30 into the period Crawford makes the save of the game, and that’s really saying something in this one. Off a Vanek one timer Crawford makes a great save off the rebound Hodgson has a wide open net but somehow Crawford manages to make a diving, flailing look what I found save. I am really starting to love Corey Crawford. This isn’t just a phase; this guy’s an all star caliber goalie.
The Sabres pull Ryan Miller at 18:34 and are able to sustain some semblance of pressure but never really enough to get you off the couch and the Hawks win in regulation 2-1.
-This went from a yawner where it looked like the Hawks would skate away with an easy convincing win, to a really great exciting game.
-Cody Hodgson might be the most impressive Hawks opponent I’ve seen this year including Ovechkin. The guy was literally everywhere, if not for such a great Crawford performance he could have had 4-5 points easy. I wonder how the Canucks are feeling about currently suspended Zack Kassian right about now, whom they traded Hodgson to get. I hope they feel as they should, like a collection of also rans who made yet another poor move. If not for Kane, Hodgson’s the best player on the ice last night and it’s not close.
-Speaking of Kane, is it possible for him to actually get better? Answer, yes. Kane had 4 takeaways last night and is turning into a legit two way forward. I’d actually like to see if someone could give Kane a pass so bad he doesn’t know what to do with it. No matter where you put the puck to this guy, no matter if he’s got 2 d-men draped on him, he’s receiving the puck , collecting himself and creating a scoring chance for himself or a teammate. It’s simply amazing to watch and I hope our readers get as much enjoyment out of it as I do, it just doesn’t come around often.
–Marcus Kruger looked more than competent as the second line center. His 45% on the face-offs isn’t great, but it’s not going to lose games. His high IQ was on display with a number of really nice set ups for scoring line teammates. I wouldn’t mind seeing him stay there.
-Speaking of staying there; please keep Saad at line 1. No one has to admit that they shouldn’t have resigned Bickell, just maybe overpaid him a couple mil per year. Please, please do not leave him up on line 1 simply because he’s paid for it. I doubt they will, and Brandon Saad is already special and I think he’s going to get Keith Tkachuck good in his career, really exciting young player. I can only pray that the sack of overpaid mediocrity that is Bryan Bickell doesn’t get in the way of that.
-Ryan Miller and Corey Crawford were the top two stars and well deserved, I tip my cap to the both of them for providing a highly entertaining game that probably shouldn’t have been. Great work gentleman.
-In 6 games now, the Sabres have scored a total of 6 goals. Ouch.
–Hawks’ lines Saturday night vs Buffalo
Line 1: Saad, Toews and Kane. Saad switched with Bickell in the third period
Line 2 Sharp, Kruger, Hossa
Line 3 Shaw, Nordstrom, Bickell
Line 4: Bollig, Pirri, Smith (only plus line for the Hawks)
D1 Keith, Seabs
D2 Hjalms, Oduya
D3 Leddy, Brookbank.