By Chris Block
Tuesday night brought the Blackhawks’ biggest litmus test of the young season as the Western Conference leading Anaheim Ducks landed in town.
Joel Quenneville rolled out a mild surprise, revealing Scott Darling would get a second-consecutive start in goal after getting the win in his NHL debut against Ottawa on Sunday.
Darling was solid again, stopping 24 shots but the one he couldn’t get wound up being the difference in the game as the Ducks, behind rookie John Gibson, shut down the vaunted Chicago shooters, 1-0.
The Blackhawks power play went 0-3 on the night, but also surrendered a short-handed goal in the 3rd period that eventually determined the loss. It was the second time in six home games the Hawks power play has gone a ‘0-for’ this season. It was also the second consecutive game the Hawks gave up a short-handed tally and third time this year at home. The 3 shorties the Hawks have given up this season ties for the league lead.
Bryan Bickell tried to get the Hawks going early when he did his best Bobby Hull impersonation. At the 1:00 mark, Bickell gained the puck down in his end, wheeled around the goal and sped up his off wing, stickhandling past both benches. He danced around a few Ducks’ checkers into Anaheim’s zone and drove through the right circle to Gibson’s crease but his shot was stopped.
Andrew Shaw got a stick in the face from Hampus Lindholm later in the period but Shaw also drew ire of the official who thought Shaw exaggerated the impact, so Shaw got an offsetting embellishment minor. The Ducks were first to get a power play late in the first after Bickell set a pick for Hossa who was attempting a wraparound chance as the play was whistled for the interference penalty. Anaheim’s loaded up first PP unit was unable to get much through on Darling, however, and it wound up being their only power play opportunity on this night.
Scary moment for Michal Rozsival with 6:00 to play in the first when he tried to carry a puck to the Ducks’ blue line but got hipchecked into the Anaheim bench by Matt Niskanen. Rozsival eventually was able to pull himself out of harm’s way and was okay.
30 seconds into the second Andrew Cogliano nearly gave Anaheim the lead after a Ryan Kesler attempt hit him and Cogliano tried a backhand around the left leg of Darling but the shot went just wide.
The second period was as even as the first with both teams getting their chances but neither gaining a decided edge in play.
With 1:25 to go in the second, Jeremy Morin stripped Ryan Getzlaf at center as the Ducks’ tried to skate through both Morin and Ben Smith. Morin took the puck right off Getzlaf’s stick blade and charged into the Ducks zone but John Gibson kicked Morin’s 30 foot wrister away beautifully into the corner.
Gibson’s best stop of the game came on a Jonathan Toews one-timer in the second minute of the third period.
Sami Vatanen’s hi-stick on Kris Versteeg midway through the third put the Hawks on their second power play of the night. It represented a chance for the Hawks to take the lead, but it didn’t turn out that way.
The game stayed a scoreless tie until an ill-thought pass by Bryan Bickell, forced back to the point on that Hawks power play, bounced in on Brent Seabrook. He knocked the puck down but Seabrook lost his footing in the process then slipped an edge trying to get up and the Ducks were off on short-handed 2-on-0. Devante Smith-Pelly and Andrew Cogliano bumped as they rushed to the loose puck and Cogliano got left behind. But it didn’t matter as Smith-Pelly strode in alone and beat Scott Darling with a forehand-to-backhand deke. Darling actually got his right pad on the shot, but then it bounced off his left leg, between his legs and into the back of the net at 11:32 of the third period.
Bickell should have made a shorter pass around the boards to Brandon Saad on the half wall, where Saad was alone. In all, it was a bad pass followed by an unfortunate break in Seabrook slipping after originally saving the puck and holding the zone.
Later, Bickell made a nice play to chase down Corey Perry and prevent a scoring chance. Bickell knocked Perry off the puck just as he was closing in on Darling with 3:10 to go.
Morin drew a later power play with 2:35 to go when Vatanen got caught behind the play and got his stick between Morin’s skates in front of the Hawks bench. Quenneville pulled Darling immediately for the start of the man-advantage but even an extra-attacker couldn’t make a difference.
Corey Perry dropped down in front of a Seabrook slap shot with ten seconds to go in regulation. Perry took it in the ribs but he got up fine as did the Ducks, prevailing 1-0 in front of 21,233 fans in Chicago.
Chicago’s record is now 5-3-1-0. Tuesday’s loss is a significant one for the Hawks as they could have pulled within a point of Anaheim for the top spot in the conference with a regulation win. Now they trail the Ducks by five points with one game in hand.
Next up for the Hawks are a couple of Ontario dates. They’ll travel to Ottawa for a rematch with the Senators on Thursday night, then visit the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday. Blackhawks return to the United Center on Sunday night for a rare 8pm puck drop. Then its back to Canada for the lone Montreal visit of the season on Tuesday night.
It’s a busy stretch upcoming of four games in six nights with many important points to be grabbed even in this early stage of the season.
–Chicago isn’t giving up much at even-strength so far, yet at the same time they’re not scoring much either. Only Florida and Nashville are giving up fewer goals per 60 minutes in 5-on-5 play. But only two teams have scored fewer goals per-60 five-on-five than the Hawks, those being Florida and Buffalo. Its easy to say the goals for are coming. And they probably are. Though, if there’s a one or two game explosion followed, or surrounded by more of the same, then that power play must get nastier in a hurry for the Hawks to keep pace with the top teams in the conference. There shouldn’t be any major concern over their start or the lack of scoring other than you don’t want to wind up in the middle like LA and San Jose or St. Louis and the Hawks did last year because a real Cup contender bows out it those matchups. Chicago are proven to be slow starters in first rounds and were lucky last spring in the sense that St. Louis was beat up and lacked the experience and firepower needed to overcome the Blackhawks. If the Blues had one or the other that series very well may have turned out differently. You can debate the merits of point chasing in October and November if you’re so inclined, but the fact is you want to be atop your division at the year-end or you run the risk of going from a team that had a great season to an organization in turmoil in a matter of just a couple weeks.
–After Tuesday’s games, the Hawks power play ranks 16th in the league (18.4%). The penalty kill ranks 2nd (92.3%) behind Detroit (96.2%).
–The Hawks and Sharks lead the NHL is short-handed goals allowed – 3.
–Tuesday was probably Jeremy Morin’s best game this year but he does need to address his shot selection if he’s to get more ice time. Morin has to drive to the net further with the puck instead of pull up for the thirty-foot wristers. Or shoot for a quality second-chance opportunity rather than fling it for the top corners. If he’s smarter with the puck the points will come. These aren’t Morin’s only issues, but they are the easiest to fix.
–Quenneville is trying hard to get Brad Richards going. Now, including taking Patrick Sharp, his second-best all-around player most nights, and placing him on the third line with Richards. This tells you two things. One, we already know, which is how important getting production from the third line is to Quenneville. Being positive in possession and scoring chances is all the Hawks’ third line is asked to do. The team is lethal when the third line is scoring because the Toews and Kruger lines take the defensive assignments and Toews and Kane lines draw the checking assignments from the opposing teams. Being on the Hawks’ third line is like a gift. How much longer until Quenneville loses his patience with Richards?
—Joel Quenneville’s lines, pairs, scratches & specials
29-Bryan Bickell / 19-Jonathan Toews / 81-Marian Hossa
20-Brandon Saad / 65-Andrew Shaw / 88-Patrick Kane
10-Patrick Sharp / 91-Brad Richards / 23-Kris Versteeg
28-Ben Smith / 16-Marcus Kruger / 11-Jeremy Morin
2-Duncan Keith / 7-Brent Seabrook
27-Johnny Oduya / 4-Niklas Hjalmarsson
57-Trevor van Riemsdyk / 32-Michal Rozsival
33-Scott Darling (starter)
Scratches: D-5-David Rundblad… LW-13-Dan Carcillo (knee)…. G-50-Corey Crawford (upper body)….
Power play I: Shaw-Toews-Kane w/Keith & Sharp
Power play II: Bickell-Saad-Hossa w/Richards & Seabrook
PK forwards: Toews-Hossa, Kruger-Smith
PK defense: Keith-Hjalmarsson, Oduya-Seabrook
Anaheim Ducks lineup Tuesday at United Center
51-Dany Heatley / 15-Ryan Getzlaf / 10-Corey Perry
7-Andrew Cogliano / 17-Ryan Kesler / 12-Devante Smith-Pelly
39-Matt Beleskey / 44-Nate Thompson / 33-Jakob Silfverberg
16-Emerson Etem / 67-Rickard Rakell / 18-Tim Jackman
4-Cam Fowler / 3-Clayton Stoner
47-Hampus Lindholm / 23-Francois Beauchemin
28-Mark Fistric / 45-Sami Vatanen
36-John Gibson (starter)
Scratches: C-38-William Karlsson… D-42-Josh Manson….
ANA PP 1: Heatley-Kesler-Perry w/Getzlaf & Vatanen
ANA PP 2: Beleskey-Rakell-Smith-Pelly w/ Lindholm & Fowler
ANA PK F: Kesler-Thompson, Cogliano-Silfverberg, Smith-Pelly
ANA PK D: Lindholm-Beauchemin, Stoner-Fowler