Coming into this one, many people were saying that these were arguably the two best teams in the Western Conference. Some were even saying that this is the year the Blues bring home their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Well after watching tonight’s game between the Blues and Blackhawks, these might be the top two teams in the West, but I’m not on board with calling the Blues Stanley Cup favorites.
It’s no secret that these two teams dislike each other. Their past battles against one another have gotten ugly a number of times, and tonight featured a little bit of that as well. Sheldon Brookbank and Chris Stewart dropped the gloves just a few minutes into the game, and it looked like there were a few more fights that were in the developing stages before the refs intervened. Adding to the ongoing bad blood between these two teams was Maxim Lapierre when he hit Andrew Shaw from behind into the side boards. He was given a two minute minor, and the Hawks scored on the ensuing powerplay. All that hit did was reinforce the fact that the Blues are loaded with a bunch of clowns who try to hurt people without caring at all. Lapierre has been known to illegally hit guys his whole career, and he is showing no signs of stopping. Barrett Jackman is also another standout loser on that team.
Tonight I thought the Blackhawks looked quite good actually. I thought they played well enough to win the game. They had a number of quality scoring chances in this one, especially early on, but Jaroslav Halak was on top of his game and kept the Hawks to just two goals. Patrick Sharp looked like he was destined for a goal in this one, but never found the back of the net.
The Hawks got two more powerplay goals tonight. That’s four in their first three games to start the season. If you compare their powerplay right now to the way it was during the playoffs, it is much better today.
The penalty kill remains a weakness up to this point. The Blackhawks allowed another powerplay goal against tonight, bringing that total to five over these first few games. Last season, the penalty kill of the Blackhawks was among the best in the league. The loss of Michael Frolik is really being felt early on in this season. Of the Blackhawks that were traded away or signed with another team this past offseason, Frolik seems to be the biggest loss.
What makes tonight’s loss so frustrating is the fact that the Blackhawks played a really good game for the first 59 minutes, and they probably should have been winning had it not been for Halak. When you play that good of a game on the road in a hostile environment, you can’t mess up like they did with 25 seconds to go and cost yourselves the two points.
Jonathan Toews had the puck to Halak’s left looking for either a pass into the slot, or a shooting lane to the net. He ended up trying to shoot and his shot was blocked. The problem here was that Brent Seabrook abandoned his spot on the blue line and decided to pinch down towards the net. When Toews’ shot got blocked, the Blues quickly transitioned from offense to defense and Alex Steen led a good rush up the ice with two other Blues players. Because Seabrook pinched on the play and wound up way out of position, only Duncan Keith was back on defense to try and defend a three on one. Steen never passed the puck and took a wicked slap shot that beat Corey Crawford for the winning goal with 21 seconds left in regulation.
Joel Quenneville was clearly upset at how this one ended based on his words to the media after the game. He called this a “brutal loss,” and said “you can’t make a mistake like that.” Jonathan Toews said that they were “robbed of two points” tonight. I’d have to agree with both Coach Q and Toews.
Moving forward, the biggest thing for the Hawks is going to be tightening up on their PK. They need to start getting more successful kills. One way to eliminate powerplay goals-against is to stop taking so many penalties. The Blackhawks were one of the least penalized teams in the league last year, and that was a huge reason for their success.
Aside from that, they really have looked good through the first three games. Tonight was definitely a tough one to swallow, but you can still take a lot of good things from tonight’s loss. Without a doubt, the Blackhawks will be more than ready for their rematch with the Blues next Thursday night back at the UC.
Thanks for reading.