By Chris Block
The Blackhawks ran over a depleted Colorado Avalanche roster in Denver on Wednesday night, outshooting the home team and dominating the action from the opening to final minute. But Chicago needed a great individual effort from Patrick Kane, and a brutal play by Alex Tanguay, leading to a Bryan Bickell tally with 5:17 remaining in the third period to take a 3-2 win out of Colorado.
Avalanche starter Calvin Pickard made 42 saves in the losing effort. The Blackhawks fired 76 shots in all at Pickard, according to the official scorers, as opposed to Colorado’s 48. Corey Crawford made 27 saves in his 12th consecutive start for his 10th win of the season.
Jonathan Toews and Andrew Shaw netted power play goals for a Hawks power play that was 2 for 6 on the evening. The Avalanche went 0-2 in the game and the head coach and Colorado players were stewing after the game about the discrepancy in power plays.
“I thought 5-on-5 we were the better team,” asserted Patrick Roy. “I thought they got away with things we couldn’t,” Roy went on to say, speaking about the difference in power play opportunities.
If Roy truly believes his team outplayed Chicago at even strength on Wednesday he’s lost his mind.
Unfortunately for Roy and his team, injuries on their blue line are too much to overcome against a team the caliber of the Blackhawks. Erik Johnson missed the game with a head injury suffered on Tuesday in Arizona. With Ryan Wilson and veteran Brad Stuart also out with injuries, the Avalanche are left with a defense that has three players who have no business being in the NHL at this time. Colorado is left with Tyson Barrie and Jan Hejda to carry the load, yet neither would be a top pair player anywhere else in the league outside of Edmonton. Colorado’s defense beyond Barrie and Hejda was putrid. It’s so bad for Colorado right now that Hejda, the best all-around healthy Colorado defenseman without Johnson, was forced to skate 2/3rds of the short-handed minutes himself.
For the Avalanche at home on Wednesday, the first sign of deep trouble came midway into the first when the Blackhawks 3rd and 4th lines had the home team pinned in their own zone for a sustained period over back-to-back shifts. Pickard bailed his team out then, but bigger tests loomed for the rookie netminder.
Moments later, Kris Versteeg accepted a stretch pass at the Avs’ blue line and entered the zone. But Patrick Kane swooped in and literally took the puck away from Versteeg. Kane stepped into the right circle and snapped a shot that clanked off the far post.
The Hawks were on a power play with 5 minutes to go in the first when Jan Hejda fired a puck around the boards, trying to the clear his zone. The puck was on edge and rolling when Brent Seabrook tried to pick it up at the blue line on the right wall. The puck eluded the Blackhawks’ defenseman and Alex Tanguay set off on a breakaway, but Crawford got enough of Tanguay’s shot to keep the game scoreless.
Duncan Keith took his second penalty of the period when he tripped Matt Duchene with a couple seconds left in the opening frame. Upon returning in the second, Crawford thwarted a Duchene stuff attempt with 2 seconds left in the power play, Colorado’s best chance on what would be its final power play of the game.
Colorado was first on the scoreboard when Max Talbot beat his check to the net for a centering pass after a misdirection play deep in the Hawks’ zone. The sequence began when Cody McLeod gained the Hawks line along the left wall and fired the puck intentionally wide and round the net. Bryan Bickell and Talbot met at the right side half wall for the puck. But Bickell bounced off and fell to the ice. McLeod, who had drifted over to the right side, grabbed the puck out of the air and shot it off the back wall in the area of Marc-Andre Cliche, who was standing aside Crawford’s net. Cliche pounced on the misdirected shot and immediately back-passed into the low slot where Talbot chipped it between Crawford’s legs. With Bickell down and out of the play, it was Shaw who couldn’t prevent Talbot from the centering pass. On the broadcast, Eddie Olczyk heavily criticized Michal Rozsival for not challenging Cliche, but the play developed so quickly that Rozsival didn’t have enough time to get to Cliche. Recognizing this, Rozsival fell back and tried to play the pass, but didn’t get a stick on that either.
Chicago got its 4th power play of the game when Tomas Vincour got his stick in Kane’s face. This gave the Hawks the opening to tie the game when a rising Brent Seabrook shot hit traffic in front and slipped by Pickard. The puck didn’t cross the line until Jonathan Toews gave it the extra push it needed. The goal was Toews’ 10th. Seabrook and Kane got the assists at 11:50.
Colorado would be penalized again a minute later when Nick Holden grabbed Andrew Shaw as he drove toward Pickard’s goal and drove Shaw into the left goal post.
31 seconds to go in this power play, Shaw cranked his 4th goal of the year when his one timer from the left faceoff dot beat Pickard to the near post. Kane set Shaw up after Adam Clendening helped gain entry at the blue line right wall.
Nathan MacKinnon had a chance to tie the game late in the 2nd after a blown icing call. Tyson Barrie had missed MacKinnon with a stretch pass, but the linesman waved off the icing call. Rozsival retreated to the puck but turned it over back to Barrie, who quickly swept the puck over to MacKinnon. But the puck died before it got into MacKinnon’s wheelhouse, so he handed it off to the late-coming Alex Tanguay, who decided not to shoot, instead dishing back to MacKinnon, who was in a bad shooting position and shanked the shot as Bryan Bickell got his stick in the way.
The Avs tied the game at 3:36 of the third when Ryan O’Reilly got a third-chance opportunity in front of Crawford as neither Seabrook nor Keith could clear the crease for their goaltender. O’Reilly backhanded his shot over Crawford to even the score 2-2.
Two minutes later MacKinnon and Niklas Hjalmarsson got tangled on a Avs’ dump in. Hjalmarsson’s helmet went flying and MacKinnon was sent to the box, but the Hawks power play couldn’t convert on this opportunity.
Marian Hossa nearly took the lead with 11:30 to go when his shot snuck through Pickard’s blocker and body but stopped short of the left post where Pickard swatted it away. A Pickard goal line stand followed and the game remained tied.
But only until Kane worked his magic.
Kane settled a bad Keith pass and gained the Avs zone all in one fluid action. Kane’s individual effort to knock a puck out of the air, stay onside then walk off the wall, shake Nick Holden and get the puck below Barrie to Bryan Bickell who whacked it by Pickard to give the Hawks the 3-2 lead.
The play was made possible though by a terrible sweeping stick check attempt by Alex Tanguay as the first forward down supporting the defense. Holden and Tanguay both did get a piece of the puck, momentarily knocking it off Kane’s stick but Tanguay did a fly-by and turned his back to the play, allowing Kane to regain possession and get the puck to Bickell to notch his 3rd goal of the season.
With 8 seconds to go Ben Smith made a diving poke at a rolling puck toward the empty Avalanche net. But Smith’s jab forced the puck to bounce wide right of the vacated goal. Smith remains snake bitten. He has just one goal on the campaign and has gone 16 games now without one.
Chicago is now 3-1-0 on its 6-game Circus road trip. They’ll visit Anaheim on Friday at 3pm central and then finish the annual November journey at Staples Center on Saturday night.
The Hawks are 13-8-1 (27 pts) and trail both St. Louis and Nashville by three points for the top spot in the Central Division.
–Strangely, Bryan Bickell never saw the ice after his go-ahead goal with 5:17 to go. Though, the trio of Versteeg, Shaw and Kane got stuck on the ice for a 1:45 shift late, so that effected it as well.
–Alex Tanguay isn’t a physical player but his fly-by on the game-winner was inexcusable. He had Kane in a vulnerable position. It’s not often Kane is in a spot to get lit up by a check, but that play was it. But Tanguay didn’t even have to do that. He needed to stand in the area and battle for the puck. Bailing on the play gave Kane the space he needed to regain the puck. Tanguay’s backcheck, supporting Barrie and Holden, who had recovered enough to also be applying back pursuit on Kane, should have been enough to take the puck away from Kane and prevent what would become the game-winning goal. But when Tanguay turned away from Kane after the stick-check, he also turned into Barrie’s path. This turned the Avs’ 3-on-Kane advantage into a Kane vs Holden’s back pressure in the blink of an eye. Tanguay didn’t try to bump Kane off the puck. He didn’t stay in the pocket to help take the puck away from Kane. It still was a terrific play by Kane, but one that should have never happened.
–Contrary to what Roy suggested after the game, I didn’t notice any glaring missed penalty calls that could have gone against the Hawks. It seemed the Avs were mostly whining that there was a 6-2 discrepancy in the number of power plays dished out by the refs.
–Adam Clendening was benched for the final 13 minutes of the game. Coming off just ‘okay’ performances in Edmonton and Vancouver, his third period benching probably means a lineup scratch is on the horizon for Mr. Clendening. If that does happen, the door opens, perhaps for one last time, for David Rundblad. While Quenneville avoided using Rozsival in back-to-backs earlier this year, he did last weekend in Edmonton and Vancouver and Friday being an afternoon game gives Rozsival a little more recovery time to prepare for the Kings at Staples on Saturday night. It’s hard to imagine Quenneville putting both Rundblad and Clendening in the lineup against either the Ducks or Kings.
–To protect the lead and seal the win in the game’s final minute, Quenneville deployed the Nordstrom-Kruger-Smith line with Keith and Seabrook. They finished the game, even after a late whistle and defensive pair change. To this point, Jonathan Toews sat the bench for the game’s final three minutes. Kruger and Smith aren’t exactly youngsters, but Quenneville trusting Nordstrom is this case is a positive sign. Now, he probably had as much to do with the opponent than anything else. I doubt Quenneville wouldn’t involve Toews somehow in that final minute had the opponent been Anaheim, Los Angeles or even Dallas.
–The Hawks dominated Colorado in the faceoff circle all night long.
51% of the contest’s faceoffs took place inside Colorado’s zone, as opposed to 26% inside the end the Blackhawks were defending. The other 23 percent of draws were inside neutral territory.
Andrew Shaw in particular had a dominant night, winning 9 of 11 offensive zone draws and 10 of 14 overall. The lone Avalanche player who held his own was Ryan O’Reilly, who was 6-11 overall, 3 for 5 vs Toews. By zone, the Hawks won 64% in the offensive zone, 53% in the defensive end and 67% in the neutral zone.
–Patrick Roy is now 60-32-13 as Avalanche head coach. It’s not looking good for Colorado right now, but its unfair to blame the coach considering the defense he has at the moment. Johnson was said to be day-to-day and could return for them this weekend. Johnson is solid enough, but even with him there’s a hole on the top pair because Hejda and Barrie are better suited as second pair guys. Brad Stuart is a 5-6 at this point of his career, where he should be skating with Zach Redmond.
–Joel Quenneville’s lines, pairs & scratches Black Wednesday in Denver
Brandon Saad / Jonathan Toews / Marian Hossa
Kris Versteeg / Brad Richards / Patrick Kane
Joakim Nordstrom / Marcus Kruger / Ben Smith
Dan Carcillo / Andrew Shaw / Bryan Bickell
Duncan Keith / Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya / Niklas Hjalmarsson
Adam Clendening / Michal Rozsival
Antti Raanta (backup)
Scratches: LW-Jeremy Morin… D-5-David Rundblad…
Injuries: Patrick Sharp (leg)… Trevor van Riemsdyk (knee)…
Power play I: Versteeg-Toews-Kane w/ Keith & Seabrook
Power play II: Saad-Shaw-Hossa w/ Richards & Clendening
PK forwards: Kruger-Smith, Toews-Hossa
PK defense: Oduya-Seabrook, Hjalmarsson-Rozsival(*)
*Keith committed both Hawks penalties resulting in COL power plays
Colorado Avalanche lineup Wednesday vs Chicago
92-Gabriel Landeskog / 29-Nathan MacKinnon / 12-Jarome Iginla
25-Maxime Talbot / 9-Matt Duchene / 48-Daniel Briere
40-Alex Tanguay / 90-Ryan O’Reilly / 81-Tomas Vincour
55-Cody McLeod / 28-Paul Carey / 24-Marc-Andre Cliche
2-Nick Holden / 4-Tyson Barrie
8-Jan Hejda / 5-Nate Guenin
3-Karl Stollery / 22-Zach Redmond
20-Reto Berra (backup)
Injuries: D-Erik Johnson (head)…. D-Brad Stuart (hamstring)… G-Semyon Varlamov (groin)… C-John Mitchell (leg)… LW-Jamie McGinn (back)…. F-Jesse Winchester (concussion)… D-Ryan Wilson (shoulder)…
Colorado special teams
Power play I: Tanguay-MacKinnon-Iginla w/Landeskog & Redmond
Power play II: O’Reilly-Duchene-Briere w/ Holden & Barrie
PK forwards: Talbot-Cliche, O’Reilly-Tanguay
PK defense: Hejda, Holden-Guenin