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Take Me To Your Backwoods: Looking Behind The Curtain Of Game 1

Just cleaning up some discussion points from Sunday’s opener.

-While some are claiming the Hawks won yet another game where they were outplayed for long stretches, I’m not so sure. Yes, the 2nd period wasn’t pretty (and that’s something the Hawks will have to correct), but everything around that looks pretty all right. The first period saw the Hawks better in Fenwick 10-7, and the 3rd period was even at 6-6.

What is more encouraging is that once the Hawks took the lead, the shot-attempt per Fenwick was only 11-8 in favor of the Kings. Being even in the 3rd when the Hawks had the lead they weren’t completely bombarded, though maybe it felt like that at times. We know this was an issue against the Blues, and against the Wild the Hawks actually didn’t have the lead that much late (only in Game 5 did they protect a one-goal lead late, and once they did they were out attempted 12-5).

We lamented about the shell in the first two rounds, but yesterday the Hawks saw it out through suffocating, aggressive defense which then got the killer goal as the Kings pressed at the wrong time (thank you, Jake Muzzin!). I like that.

We’ve spent a lot of time trying to prop up the case for Corey Crawford, as most of the possible Conn Smythe attention has gone to Toews or Kane, and sometimes Crow. But if you want to pick the most consistent Hawk, it’s been Marian Hossa.

Hossa isn’t getting the attention of others because he only has two goals. But he has 13 points, and seems to be carrying things on every shift. He’s the Hawks leader in Behind The Net Rating (meaning the Hawks are almost two goals better off for every 60 minutes he plays versus 60 he doesn’t). The 11 assists are a slight surprise, because he’s not a dynamic playmaker (at least not always). But he’s piled up the assists by overpowering people along the boards and opening up lanes when someone has to cover, and finding the open guy.

For Hossa’s first three years here, we kind of lamented his playoff performances. He only scored three goals in ’10, didn’t arrive until it was too late in ’11, got hurt in ’12. Last year he was very good playing through what we came to find out was a pretty serious back injury, even though the numbers might not back it up.

But this one. This is his best postseason performance in a Hawks uniform. Part of it is being healthy, part of it is missing just enough time during the season to be as fresh as can be now. He’s only three points from matching his best output in the playoffs with the Hawks, and he might be the biggest reason the Hawks haven’t needed Patrick Sharp to be much more than a warm body so far.

-One trend that is more disturbing is that for the second straight game Keith and Seabrook got buried in possession. Combined they were 19-35 in Corsi. They did it while mostly seeing Toffoli-Carter-Pearson, which might be the biggest threat if Toews is going to be up against Kopitar the whole series.

Looking a little deeper though, they took most of their shifts behind Sharp-Handzus-Kane. With Sharp just not himself and Handzus very much being himself, maybe Q trusts Marlboro 72 the most to do the constant bailing of water off the boat that Handzus will cause. Because only Kane is making things happen on that line (and the fact that he’s consistently doing it is really impressive) and this is just how they’re going to look for the remainder of the playoffs as long as they have two corpses on that line. I think it’s why you saw Saad and Sharp switch places, because the way Saad was playing he was more likely to make up for the lack of anything Handzus gives you.

In an ideal world, Shaw would come in for Handzus because even though I can’t really believe it, Shaw drives possession far better. In fact, a line of Saad-Smith-Kane is something I wouldn’t mind seeing.

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