Blackhawks simply amazing

163279535_slideWhat more can be said about the Blackhawks? Every single game it seems as though they do something else to get a win that just blows your mind. I’m honestly not sure if there are anymore appropriate adjectives that have not been used to describe this team. They are simply amazing.

Tonight’s game against the Avalanche was bound to be a tougher one for the Blackhawks, who played a good team in the Minnesota Wild just a night earlier. However, just before puck drop, tonight’s game got even tougher. Marian Hossa was announced as a last second scratch from the lineup with what the Blackhawks are calling an “upper body injury.” No word on how or what happened to him.

As for the game itself, the Avs gave the Hawks just about all they could possibly handle and threatened to end The Streak at 23 games.

The first period got off to a bit of a slow start, with each team registering 3 shots through about the first 7 minutes or so. Then with 8:43 gone in the period, Cody McLeod was given a two minute minor for roughing, sending the Blackhawks to the powerplay. On that powerplay, Brent Seabrook launched a rocket of a slap shot from just inside the blue line that was redirected past Semyon Varlamov by Andrew Shaw. Hawks were up 1-0.

With just under two minutes left in the first, Colorado tied the game on a nice play that resulted in John Mitchell backhanding a shot over the left pad of Ray Emery. This was a big goal at the time because it gave Colorado all the momentum heading into the first intermission.

In the second period, each team had a few decent scoring chances, but only the Avs were able to put one in the back of the net. At the 13:17 mark in the period, Matt Duchene wristed a shot off the side/back of Ray Emery that ended up crossing the goal line. This was a goal that Emery would no doubt like to have back.

Patrick Sharp had a really good second period as he registered four shots on goal. A couple of them were high quality scoring chances, including a two on one with Viktor Stalberg that Varlamov denied. The period would end with the score 2-1 in favor of the Avalanche.

Early in the third, Michal Rozsival was called for hooking, sending the Blackhawks to the penalty kill. On the ensuing kill, Jonathan Toews scored a beautiful shorthanded goal after taking a pass from Dave Bolland just inside the Colorado zone. Leave it up to the Captain to will his team back into the game.

As the period progressed, each team had their fair share of chances, but both goalies stood tall and made all of the stops. That is until there were just 49 seconds left in the game…

163279294_slideWith just under a minute left to play, Marcus Kruger carried the puck in towards Varlamov and let go of a good wrist shot from the left circle. The puck hit Varlamov and eventually found its way in behind the net. Kruger then won the puck battle and fed a perfect pass in front of the net to a wide open Viktor Stalberg for a one-timer. Varlamov made the save, but gave up a rebound. After multiple hacks at the puck from players of both teams, Daniel Carcillo finally was able to backhand a shot past Varlamov to give the Hawks the lead. A classic on-ice celebration ensued.

The Blackhawks were able to hold off Colorado for the remaining 49 seconds, and The Streak still remains in tact now at 24 games (or 30 going back to last season). This was also the Blackhawks’ 11th straight victory. While we’re on the topic of streaks, with tonight’s win Ray Emery became the first goalie in NHL history to start a season 10-0 (there are too many streaks surrounding this team that it’s getting hard to keep track of them all).

While this was a memorable game for the Hawks and us fans, not all is well concerning this team.

Near the end of the second period, Andrew Shaw took an elbow to the head from Paul Stastny and was clearly shaken up. He struggled to get back to the bench, and never ended up returning to the game.

About a quarter of the way into the third period, Patrick Sharp was checked into the glass by Ryan O’Byrne and was visibly in a lot of pain right away. Holding his left shoulder, he could hardly skate off the ice and immediately went into the Hawks’ dressing room. He would not return to the game either. In the postgame interview with Joel Quenneville, he said that Shaw will be reevaluated tomorrow and that Sharp will likely “miss some time.” Q was asked if Sharp could miss the rest of the season and responded by saying, “I don’t think so.” That’s not exactly the answer us fans wanted to hear.

As for Hossa, he is expected back in the lineup Friday night in Colorado. Brandon Bollig was sent back to Rockford today and Steve Montador (did you forget about him?) was activated and placed on the active NHL roster.

Now, back to the game itself tonight.

The Avalanche did as good of a job as any team the Hawks have played this year at not allowing them any “open ice.” A huge part of the Blackhawks’ strategy is to use their speed up and down the ice and to play an uptempo game. The Avs did a very good job of not allowing the Hawks to do this. They forced the Blackhawks to play a “chip and chase” type game instead. While the Hawks ended up getting the win, a lot of teams are going to look at the tape of this game and try to replicate what the Avs were able to do defensively.

163279531_slide (1)Having said all of that, this team never gives up and once again found another way to win despite being majorly shorthanded in terms of forwards. Of all players on this roster, who would have expected to see Dan Carcillo out on the ice in the last minute of a tie game, and who would have predicted that he’d score the game winning goal with just 49 seconds left? The Blackhawks have 21 wins this year, and after tonight’s game, 13 different players on the team have recorded a game-winning goal. That is incredible. You won’t find another team in the NHL who can say that.

Ray Emery. Just like the team he plays for, what more can you say about this guy? He set the all-time NHL record tonight for most consecutive wins by a goalie to start a season (10). Now to be completely honest with you, I was surprised to learn that no goalie had ever gone 10-0 before. But nonetheless, that is pretty impressive for him to have set that record while being the team’s number two goalie.

The Blackhawks head to Colorado for a rematch with the Avs on Friday night. Could the thin air in the Mile High City be the factor that ends the Hawks’ streak? We shall wait and see. While I would love to see this team go 48 games without a regulation loss (they won’t), a few losses will actually help the Hawks come playoff time. They need to know what it’s like to battle back and win games after losing one or two. I bet if you ask Joel Quenneville, he would agree.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

Blackhawks beat Wings in a shootout

163018073_slideToday’s game between the Blackhawks and Red Wings was as close to a playoff game as you will find during the regular season. Quick-paced and physical play, incredible goaltending, and low scoring. That is the best way to describe the playoffs, and that is exactly how today’s game was played.

If the Detroit-Chicago rivalry wasn’t a good enough reason for the Red Wings to want to win this game, then the fact that the Hawks hadn’t lost in regulation yet this season should have done the trick. Based on the way the Wings played, you could tell they wanted this one badly.

The fist period was pretty much dominated by the Blackhawks. Much of the period was spent in the Detroit end as the Hawks peppered Jimmy Howard with 9 shots on goal. Howard stopped all 9 and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game. Detroit was able to get off just 3 shots through the first 20 minutes of action, and like Howard, Corey Crawford had an answer for all 3.

163012908_slideThe second period was a much more intense period than its predecessor. Both teams were putting a ton of pressure on each other at both ends of the ice and generated multiple Grade-A scoring chances. Jimmy Howard and Corey Crawford, however, played like brick walls and came up with huge save after huge save. It almost seemed as though they had a personal battle going between one another to see who could come up with the biggest, best saves. After two periods, the game remained scoreless, but the shot totals grew to 21-18 in favor of the Hawks.

The third period was filled with just as much intensity as the second. Just 2:43 into the third, Tomas Tatar beat Crawford with a one-timer that was setup beautifully by Joakim Andersson from behind the net. It was at this time that it appeared as though the Hawks’ streak may be coming to an end.

As the third period moved along, both sides continued to get decent scoring chances, but both goalies kept on making the big saves. There must have been more highlight-reel saves in this game than every game from Saturday night (9 games) combined.

Then with 2:25 remaining in the third, Jonathan Ericsson was given a 2-minute delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass from inside the Wings’ defensive zone. On the ensuing Blackhawks’ powerplay, after Patrick Sharp’s slap shot from the point was blocked in front of the net, the puck dropped to the ice and Viktor Stalberg was able to backhand a pass to Patrick Kane. Kane, all in one motion, caught the pass and let go of a wicked wrister that beat Jimmy Howard over his left shoulder to tie the game. Stalberg’s pass was a thing of beauty and couldn’t have been more perfectly placed. After Kane’s goal, there was just 2:02 remaining on the clock.

In the dying moments of the game, Johan Franzen backhanded a shot that beat Corey Crawford and hit off the post. That would have been an incredible turnaround in the game had that puck gone in. Then with 1:23 left in the game, Niklas Kronwall was hit with a delay of game penalty for also shooting the puck out of play from his own defensive zone.

The Wings would keep the Hawks from scoring in regulation and the game headed to overtime.

In overtime, Detroit killed off the rest of Kronwall’s penalty to put both teams at even strength. As was the case throughout all of regulation, each goalie (Crawford especially) came up with some big time saves to keep their teams alive. No goals would be scored and a shootout was on the way.

After Datsyuk, Toews, and Brunner were all denied on their shootout attempts (three of the best players in the NHL at shootouts), Patrick Kane pulled out another incredible move from his bag of tricks to beat Howard and put the Hawks in front.

Henrik Zetterberg was Detroit’s last hope to extend the shootout, and Corey Crawford denied his attempt to win the game for the Blackhawks.

This was by far one of the best regular season games I have seen in recent years. A couple of the Hawks’ other top regular season games that I can remember off hand both involved the Red Wings and Joe Louis Arena (all three were ironically on NBC and day games).

If there was ever a game that the Hawks were going to lose to end their incredible points streak, this was it. Detroit gave them all they could handle. Corey Crawford played possibly his best game ever today and personally won them the game. Yes, Kane came up with the big 2 goals, but Crawford made a countless number of major saves on great scoring chances from Detroit.

The Blackhawks are playing with a never-die attitude this year. Regardless of any adversity that they have faced, the Hawks have overcome it and found a way to get at least one point. Today was a perfect example of this. They found themselves trailing late in the game in a hostile environment and could have easily crawled up into a ball and let the Wings walk all over them. But they didn’t. They shook off Tatar’s goal and never gave up.

I said in my last blog that if the Hawks were to lose any of their upcoming games, this one would have been it. Now that they have avoided doing just that, I give up on trying to predict when they’ll lose. If they take a night off and don’t give everything they’ve got, that is when they will lose. Every team they play is going to bring their best effort to try and end this streak, so the Hawks need to be on their toes night in and night out.

My three stars of today’s game for the Blackhawks would have to be 1) Corey Crawford 2) Patrick Kane 3) Brandon Saad. Saad had 5 shots on goal.

Side notes: This was Marian Hossa’s 1,000th career game……….The Blackhawks’ streak of not losing in regulation is now up to  28 games dating back to last season.

 

The Streak is still alive

162944136_slideWe are almost half way through the NHL season as the Blackhawks have played 21 games, and they still have yet to lose a game in regulation. The previous record of 16 straight games to open a season with a point held by the ’06-’07 Ducks is long gone, and the Blackhawks are showing no signs of slowing down.

There really isn’t a lot left to say about this team that hasn’t already been said during this incredible streak. To make it short and sweet, the Blackhawks are the best team in hockey right now, and the hottest team in professional sports. They are winning the games that they should win, they are winning the close games, and now they are winning the games that they really shouldn’t be winning.

Last night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the worst team in the NHL, was one of the worst game the Hawks have played this year. Sure you can blame it on the fact that the Hawks played the night before in St. Louis, but the fact of the matter is that the lowly Blue Jackets almost ended the Hawks streak at 20 games. Yet, the Blackhawks still prevailed in overtime and have now gone 21 straight games to start the season without a regulation loss. In fact, if you go back to last season the Hawks have now gone 26 straight regular season games with at least a point. That’s good for third all time.

In order to win a lot of games in a season, you need your top players to produce. In order to go on a streak like the Blackhawks are on and in order to win a Stanley Cup, you need production from top to bottom in your lineup. The Blackhawks are getting both. Their top players such as Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp are all producing offensively, but so are their third and fourth line guys. Over the past 2-3 games, the Blackhawks best line has arguably been their third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, and Viktor Stalberg. All three players are creating chances and sustaining pressure on the opposition, and all three are scoring goals. Last night both Stalberg and Bickell recorded goals, Thursday night Shaw had a goal, and last Sunday night it was Shaw who had the lone goal in the Hawks’ 1-0 victory over the Blue Jackets. It’s not just the top two lines of this team that are beating their opponents, and that is what makes the Blackhawks so hard to play against.

162777149_slideThe biggest question mark coming into this season was their goaltending. Now, that might be the most consistent part of this team. Night in and night out, whether it is Crawford or Emery in the net, the goaltending has been great. Both players are tied for the third most wins this year (9), Crawford is first in goals-against average, and both are in the top 10 for save percentage (Crawford ranks second). What more could you possibly ask for from your goalies? Even when Ray Emery was supposed to have the night off against St. Louis on Thursday, he came into the game in relief of an injured Crawford and shut out the Blues for the final 2 periods (the two goalies combined for a shutout that night).

Going along the lines of great goaltending is this team’s great defense. The Hawks are first in fewest goals-against per game, and rank second on the penalty kill. This is thanks in large part to the improved play of Keith, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, and Leddy. If you look back at the recent Stanley Cup winners, every one of them has been near the top of the league in goals-against per game. Last year, the Kings ranked second, in ’10-’11 the Bruins ranked second, and in ’09-’10 the Blackhawks were sixth. It’s not always about how much you score, but how rarely you get scored on, and the L.A. Kings of last year are the perfect example of that. They ranked 17th in goals scored per game during the regular season.

A lot of people, myself included, thought that the Blackhawks’ streak was going to end this past Thursday in St. Louis. Jonathan Toews and the rest of that first line put an end to that prediction just 12 seconds into the game. Looking forward, their toughest upcoming game has to be tomorrow afternoon in Detroit. The Wings and Hawks always play close games against each other, and I would expect nothing different tomorrow. If the Hawks win that one, then I really have no idea how long this streak could last. It’s kind of scary to think about (in a good way).

Updated Oduya Stat: The Blackhawks are now 30-2-7 with Johnny Oduya in the lineup since getting him at last year’s trade deadline.