Dec 132014

By Chris Block

The Blackhawks 8-game winning streak came to an end on Long Island on Saturday night.

Dan Carcillo put the Hawks ahead for exactly six seconds in the second period when Jaroslav Halak stopped his shot but had the rebound pop high in the air and come down bouncing off the back of his head and into the back of the net. But a bad Duncan Keith giveaway in front of Scott Darling handed Cal Clutterbuck the tying goal six seconds after the Hawks took the lead.

Patrick Kane later notched his team-leading 14th goal of the season. Then the tide turned once again after a Kris Versteeg penalty midway through the third. Kyle Okposo nailed a Darling rebound on the ensuing New York power play. On the next shift the Hawks watched Isles’ defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky dance through their zone and rip a shot by Darling’s stick to take a 3-2 lead, one Halak and the Islanders would not relinquish.

Darling was the star of the game for the Hawks. He stopped 38 shots in taking the 3-2 loss. Halak faced just 25 shots at the other end.

The second period was one of the Hawks’ worst periods of the year, but that’s not to take anything away from the Islanders, who were the better team overall in the latter two-thirds of Saturday’s contest.

Darling made his fourth consecutive start in the game. Odd, because Antti Raanta won each of his two previous starts just after Corey Crawford fell down at a Rise Against concert after returning from the Circus Trip.

This is clearly a statement by Joel Quenneville that he’s more comfortable with Darling as his goaltender, even though Raanta’s numbers are nearly identical to Darling’s. Both goalies are exempt from waivers, meaning neither would need to be exposed to the other 29 teams to be sent down to the AHL. However, Raanta’s contract is guaranteed money. He earns $700,000 this season (and $800k next) no matter where he plays as opposed to Darling, whose AHL salary is $115,000. That alone makes Darling the easier guy to send back to Rockford. That, and the team can say they want Darling playing in games. Though, Darling splits the starts in Rockford with veteran Michael Leighton, who I’m beginning to wonder if Quenneville would also prefer over Raanta these days.

Quenneville’s riding Darling apparently over Raanta because of the Lemont native’s drastic size advantage over the Finnish netminder. Darling is also more of a conventional goalie. Raanta relies more on athleticism. Still, Quenneville playing the AHL goalie over his NHL backup four straight games is typical of Quenneville to some degree. He has a history of disregarding his goalies and the tone being inferred by the media who’ve spoken to Raanta in recent days is that this has clearly messed with Raanta’s head. I’m not sure why Quenneville would willingly risk this. Raanta isn’t the future in Chicago. Although, neither is Darling. Unless Crawford breaks down in the next two years (which would be a huge problem for the Hawks considering Crawford is only now in the first year of his big 6-year contract) both goalies will be applying their trade elsewhere eventually. Quenneville should be wanting to keep both Darling and Raanta strong in the event he needs one, or both, come playoff time. Darling is the flavor of the month – and he very well could wind up becoming a solid NHL netminder, but his puckhandling and rebound control are not at NHL starter level right now. Raanta is unlikely to ever be an NHL starter, but he’s good enough to get a team through stretches like the Hawks are in now with Crawford on the sidelines. His coach doesn’t see it that way, or he does, but he’s more comfortable with the bigger man in goal. Either way, screwing with Raanta’s confidence is bound to come back to bite the Hawks, or Rocky Wirtz’ check book.

Brandon Saad jumped off the bench in the game’s twelfth minute and stripped Nick Leddy of the puck as Leddy tried to dance through the neutral zone. Marian Hossa was in pursuit, pressuring Leddy from behind as well. Saad had a breakaway from the Isles’ blue line but Jaroslav Halak stuffed his attempt with the right pad.

A minute later Kyle Okposo had his team’s best chance of the first period when he drove in on the Hawks’ goal with two Blackhawks just off his back. Darling, however, shut the door.

Patrick Sharp tripped Griffin Reinhart down in the Hawks’ end with 1:59 to go in the opening twenty. The Hawks’ penalty killers generated the best scoring chance on that man-discrepancy though. Saad hustled to win a puck just inside the Isles’ end with 11 seconds to go and chipped it across to a streaking Hossa, but the feed was a couple inches too far for Hossa.

Chicago outshot New York 10-8 in the period.

Then came the Hawks’ rude awakening in the second period – the Islanders are a lot better than the Hawks respected them for on this evening.

Chicago’s two best chance of the period came three minutes in, but neither wound up being official shots on goal.

Saad had a backhand chance from the low slot but it hit Toews in the back of the leg at 2:46. The rebound bounced out to Duncan Keith at the left hash but his backhand attempt hit a fallen Griffin Reinhart in the skate.

Seconds later Toews was battling behind the net with Matt Donovan, who was playing Toews hard. At the end of their duel, Toews stick swung around inadvertenly and hit Donovan in the back of the head, prompting referee Paul Devorski to send Toews off to the box for two minutes. Islanders’ power players had good pressure on this chance but the game remained scoreless.

A miscommunication between Keith and Darling with Brock Nelson persuing a dump-in nearly put the Hawks down a goal at the seven minute mark but Darling was able to recover and make a goal line stand without giving up a rebound.

Darling had to come up with a huge stop on Cal Clutterbuck at 9:10 after Matt Martin crushed Michal Rozsival with a check to Darling’s left. Rozsival just froze with the puck with Martin bearing down on him. On the very next shift, Darling recovered well enough to make a paddle save on John Tavares after Darling gave up a rebound with Tavares on the doorstep.

The Hawks were badly outplayed for the first 14 minutes of the middle period and mustered just one shot on goal during that time.

But then the Hawks caught a lucky break when Carcillo got a pass in the slot from Johnny Oduya. Carillo put his shot on. Halak made the save but the puck bounced high, straight up in the air. When it came down, the puck hit Halak in the back of the head and right shoulder and bounced into the back of his net. The Hawks gladly took the 1-0 lead with 5:35 to go in the second after being thoroughly dominated the entire period. The goal was given to Carcillo, his 4th of the season.

That joy was short-lived though. Exactly six seconds, in fact.

Off the ensuing draw, Duncan Keith had his head down and attempted to fire a pass across the slot in his zone to Michal Rozsival. Keith didn’t see Cal Clutterbuck, who intercepted the pass ten feet in front of the Hawks’ goal and beat Darling between the legs with a forehand to backhand move at the 14:31 mark of the second period. The unassisted goal was also Clutterbuck’s 4th of the season.

Keith redeemed himself somewhat with 2 minutes to go in the second. Darling made a chest save on Anders Lee. The rebound laid out for Brock Nelson, who tried to feed Michael Grabner for what could have been the go-ahead goal but Keith got his stick on Grabner’s before the puck got there.

The Hawks were outshot 17-7 in the period and were lucky to be tied after 40 minutes.

Third period began with a strong surge by the Hawks with each shift generating a quality scoring chance and Halak staying sharp to keep the game tied at 1-1.

Patrick Kane launched a wicked backhand over Halak’s left glove hand and just under the cross bar at 3:46 to give the Hawks the lead. It was Kane’s 14th goal of the season. Kane had just watched Mikhail Grabovski stickhandle nicely around in the Hawks’ end. When the Hawks regained possession, Saad sprung Kane with a pass and the Hawks’ sniper put on a little show of his own.

Kris Versteeg swung his stick wildly at hit Tavares in the face, giving New York an opportunity to even the score again.

They did more than that as the Versteeg penalty proved to be a huge momentum swing in the game.

Kyle Okposo tied the game on his 7th goal of the season while Versteeg was in the box. Nick Leddy made a nice keep at the far left blue line to maintain zone possession. Leddy fed Tavares, whose shot Darling stopped. But the rebound came to Okposo on the weak side and the Isles’ star power forward made no mistake beating Darling to the short-side, left post.

New York then took the lead on the very next shift. The Islanders entered the Hawks’ zone with a momentary 4-on-2 edge as the Hawks’ forwards went for a change. Lubomir Visnovsky saw this and called for the puck. Visnovsky drew Klas Dahlbeck out to him, who tried but offered little resistance and the Isles’ defenseman held the puck nicely and beat Darling clean with a wrist shot by the stick side for his 2nd goal on the year. Patrick Kane got back and tried to take away Visnovsky’s passing lane but Dahlbeck let Visnovsky go and no one picked up the puck carrier.

Ben Smith got whacked in the helmet of the head by Thomas Hickey’s stick with 4:30 to go but there was no penalty call on this careless stick infraction. Hossa had a great chance with 3 minutes to go but his shot hit Halak’s right pad and the rebound was cleared.

Darling kicked a Okposo chance with 1:40 to go then was pulled for the extra attacker with 1:30 to go. Ryan Strome nearly sealed the win with 40 seconds left when his long clear hit the right post of the vacated net down in the Hawks’ end.

The Isles committed an icing with 11.2 to go.   Strome won that draw from Toews. Matt Martin won a board battle against Seabrook and cleared the zone. Down at the other end, Clutterbuck beat Keith to the puck to prevent icing. Keith was very unhappy at the icing being waved off. There would have been 3 to 4 seconds left had the icing been ruled. Clutterbuck was skating for the puck and Keith was racing to the hash to get the icing called, but the puck slowed up and Clutterbuck and Keith were almost parallel to each other when the puck did cross the back line, but Keith was fifteen feet from the puck. The call could have gone either way and it went against the Hawks and time ran off the clock with Keith directing his anger at linesman Kiel Murchison.

Blackhawks fell to 20-9-1 (41 points) with the loss. And with the Blues winning in overtime late in Colorado on Saturday night, Saint Louis (20-8-2, 42pts) overtook Chicago for first place in the Central.

The Hawks return home on Sunday night to host the Calgary Flames, who lost in Pittsburgh on Friday, which was the fourth straight for the Flames.

Game notes:

–The Hawks were unable to expose the Islanders’ depleted blue line after the first period.

–Marian Hossa in particular was all over Nick Leddy in the first period. Hossa hounded Leddy each time they were on the ice together and Leddy had the puck. It was really something to watch, but then we didn’t really see that much more from Hossa after the first twenty.

–Hawks had just one power play in the game. They went 0-1. I’m sure they were miffed at not getting a call on Hickey’s errant stick to the back of Smith’s head late in the third after Versteeg was whistled for something similar earlier in the period, but it was not to be.

Islanders power converted on the crucial Versteeg high-sticking minor. NYI were 1-3 on the night in 5:32 of power play time.

–Blackhawks won 59% of the draws with Toews leading the way (10-13 77%). Brad Richards was the only Hawk who struggled, losing 8 of the 13 faceoffs he was in for. He fared well against John Tavares though (3 for 5), who was brutalized in this one in spite of not being matched against the Toews line.

–Richards is slowing down again and you (or I) get the feeling he’s a game or two from Quenneville reducing his minutes again and getting Richards off the Kane line. This will happen periodically over the season as Quenneville tries to pace Richards well towards the postseason.


Joel Quenneville’s lines, pairs, scratches & specials 12/13 on Long Island


20-Brandon Saad / 19-Jonathan Toews / 81-Marian Hossa

23-Kris Versteeg / 91-Brad Richards / 88-Patrick Kane

29-Bryan Bickell / 65-Andrew Shaw / 10-Patrick Sharp

13-Dan Carcillo / 16-Marcus Kruger / 28-Ben Smith


2-Duncan Keith / 7-Brent Seabrook

27-Johnny Oduya / 4-Niklas Hjalmarsson

44-Klas Dahlbeck / 32-Michal Rozsival

In Goal

33-Scott Darling

31-Antti Raanta (backup)

Scratches: G-50-Corey Crawford (left foot)… D-5-David Rundblad….

Conditioning loan to AHL-Rockford: LW-11-Jeremy Morin

Special teams

Power play I: Versteeg-Toews-Kane w/ Keith & Sharp
Power play II: Saad-Shaw-Hossa w/ Richards & Seabrook

PK forwards: Smith-Kruger, Toews-Hossa, Saad-Hossa
PK defense: Keith-Hjalmarsson, Oduya-Seabrook


New York Islanders lineup Saturday night vs Chicago


86-Nikolay Kulemin / 91-John Tavares / 21-Kyle Okposo

84-Mikhail Grabovski / 51-Frans Nielsen / 12-Josh Bailey

40-Michael Grabner / 29-Brock Nelson / 27-Anders Lee

17-Matt Martin / 18-Ryan Strome / 15-Cal Clutterbuck


2-Nick Leddy / 44-Calvin de Haan

11-Lubomir Visnovsky / 14-Thomas Hickey

46-Matt Donovan / 8-Griffin Reinhart

In Goal

41-Jaroslav Halak

30-Chad Johnson (backup)

Scratches: LW-36-Eric Boulton… D-37-Brian Strait…

Notes: Earlier in the day, forward Cory Conacher cleared waivers and was reassigned to AHL-Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Special teams

Power play I: Nelson-Tavares-Nielsen w/Okposo & Leddy
Power play II: Bailey-Strome-Lee w/Grabovksi & Visnovsky

PK forwards: Nelson-Grabner, Nielsen-Kulemin
PK defense: Hickey-de Haan, Leddy-Donovan


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