And so here we are, in the doldrums of January hockey with still the month of February to look forward to. If you’ve been paying attention over the last 8 years, this is usually around the time where the Hawks are half-interested on most nights. If they’re fortunate enough that their goaltending keeps them in the game, there’s a decent bet they’ll get at least a point out of it because they’re so damn good at making every opportunity count.
Tonight on the second game of a back-to-back, the Hawks were walloped in possession, shots and everything else except the scoreboard. The credit goes to Scott Darling as he was outstanding. Also as aforementioned, they made the most of the chances they were given.
Let’s get to the rest.
–Let me take a second here to try and explain how I became the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and why January and February hockey can be so terrible. At the beginning of the season, it’s essentially a mad dash to collect as many points as possible and separate the lottery teams from the playoff contenders. Usually around Thanksgiving, every team is in the spot they’re supposed to be in.
So what happens before and shortly after the holidays is we see a lot of teams (like the Blackhawks) take their foot off the pedal and maybe not play with that extra attention to detail. Whether it’s a game where the coach experiments with the line matchups or where a team isn’t playing as tight defensively as they were at the beginning of the season, there are a multitude of ways teams cannot look as sharp as they did early in the season.
Of course, on the other hand you have teams like Columbus and the Minnesota Wild who can run off ungodly winning streaks during this time as they take advantage of those teams tinkering with their lineup, strategy, etc. The plus side is they gain a ton of points; the down side is everyone in the league who matters now knows their gameplan as the season winds down.
There’s obviously more to it than that, but that’s the best way I can explain it in 300 words or less.
–We’re living in an age where great goaltending is seen as a negative by some. And I get it. Relying on a goalie night in and night out is a very difficult way for sustained success. Yet here the Hawks are going on year three of this strategy with one Stanley Cup in tow and three playoff berths clinched by Christmas. So maybe it’s not that unsustainable when you have, to quote McClure, a team of bad shot makers.
Scott Darling was outstanding tonight, making several highlight reel saves. I counted at least three saves on one-timers where he slid his pad across the crease to stop the puck.
That being said, when the shot totals were read near the end of the first, I was sort of surprised to hear them that lopsided. Coming off a night where the Hawks barraged Buffalo in the first period, it didn’t seem like Carolina was doing the same to Chicago tonight.
–In one play, Duncan Keith showed why he’s still one of the most dangerous defensemen in the league. After the Hurricanes won the draw shorthanded, Viktor Stalberg went to clear the puck and his stick snapped. In the time Carolina had won the draw, Keith had started to backpedal off the blue line to retrieve the iced puck. As soon as he saw Stalberg’s stick snap, he immediately changed direction and was able to hold the line which led to Artemi Panarin’s game-winning goal.
The whole sequence happened within a two second window. For Keith to be able to process it that quickly was absolutely amazing. If there are three other people on the planet that could’ve made that play, I’d like to see them.
–Jeff Skinner is a lot of fun to watch and I’m glad he got past the concussion issues he had for almost two seasons. He’s almost like a rubber band on skates the way he can contort himself in odd positions and constantly change his angle on attacking rushes. It has to be an absolute nightmare to defend against him.
–Speaking of defending Jeff Skinner, SMART Trevor Van Riemsdyk should not be pinching Jeff Skinner at the blue line on a hail mary pass with less than 10 seconds in a period. Van Riemsdyk set up that whole scoring play by jumping the gun on Skinner, hereby allowing a clear lane to the net.
Adding to the frustration that is the TVR Experience, he never missed a shift after that. In fact, he played more than 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Michal Kempny continued to play well, didn’t make anything as close to an egregious mistake, bailed out TVR in the 1st period after a horrendous pinch that led to a 2-on-1 and he barely cracked 12 minutes of ice time.
It’s one thing to not bench Duncan Keith or Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews for a mistake; they’re franchise players and you can live with the risk/reward plays because they’re home run hitters. It’s quite another to let an undrafted free agent make mistake after mistake, play him over actual assets and then point to the few times he did something right as evidence he “gets it.”
–Ryan Hartman was the Hawks Corsi leader tonight. It may come off as a knock against him but it shouldn’t. Hartman was excellent again tonight and very well could have scored a couple goals if not for Cam Ward.
–Our beautiful baby boy was not as noticeable as he was in Raleigh. Perhaps he didn’t work out hard enough this morning or whatever bullshit excuse the Hawks put out in the bloodstream to help soften the blow prior to his trade. You know who never misses a workout? TVR.
–What if Ty Rattie is actually good?
–After all this, the Hawks still did what they needed. They got all 4 points in a rare home back-to-back. Next up will be the Preds on Sunday. Another two points then may drive another nail in Peter Laviolette’s coffin.