With both Western Conference finalists coming off a seven game series, there was little reason to doubt that Game 1 would not be the most aesthetically pleasing game to watch. Sure enough, that was the case as the Kings weren’t exactly frothing at the mouth for this one and the Hawks took full advantage to the tune of outshooting them 36-22, nearly outhitting the Kings and dictating the tempo of the game for the large majority.
On to the bullets.
- So how did the Hawks dictate the tempo? For one, their breakouts were phenomenal and it started with their defensive zone support. Whenever the Kings would throw the puck into a corner, the Hawk defenseman had two easy outlet options to choose from. The Hawks did that by creating a mini-triangle of support. The center would be in a position to pick up any loose pucks and far enough away to be the first option on the breakout pass. The defensive partner was standing either in front of the net or behind it, depending on the situation, and acted as the safety valve should the center be covered. The results were easy tic-tac-toe passes to relieve the Kings pressure and put the Hawks into their transition game the other way.
- When the Kings did start to push back in the third period, the majority of their pressure was the result of plays behind the net. Nothing surprising there. This is where they’re going to generate the fair share of their offensive opportunities. The Hawks were fortunate on a couple occasions and opportunistic on the others. One time, Mike Richards fanned on a wide open pass to the trailing King defenseman and the other Duncan Keith had his stick perfectly positioned to negate a prime scoring chance for Dustin Penner. The other time Corey Crawford made a terrific save on Jeff Carter. The Kings are a very solid team so they’re going to score more than a couple times based on plays behind the net in this series. For the Hawks, the key will be to limit the mental mistakes and continue to break out of their zone as a unit. So long as they continue to do that, the Kings will continue to struggle creating scoring chances.
- Offensively, it’s hard to dislike anything the Hawks did today. They were all over the Kings defense. They were firing shots from everywhere and they were constantly within Jonathan Quick’s net radius. I’m calling it now; if the Hawks play another game like that this series, the floodgates are going to open.
- That was a vintage Duncan Keith performance. What a difference limiting his minutes this season has made. Keith was flying all over the ice, making plays on both sides. Actually, now that I really think about it, he’s been the best player on the ice for the past few games.
- This will no doubt be disagreed upon but Brandon Saad’s playoff campaign debut is eerily similar to that of Eric Daze. In the ’95 playoffs, Daze didn’t have a point in 16 games but as a rookie played really well. Those acted as a launching pad as Daze put together a relatively solid career. (This is an argument for another time but Daze was universally hated by Hawk fans for reasons that were pretty unfair to him. He came at the end of an era and people hated him for not being a Al Secord/Jeremy Roenick hybrid. He was a perennial 20 goal scorer and an outstanding secondary scoring option. Unfortunately, he was a number one scoring option for those Hawk teams so people hated him. This side rant has gone on entirely too long. Anyways, back to Saad.) So far in these playoffs, I’ve seen Saad outmuscle players like Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Drew Doughty and Mikko Koivu just to name a few. Not exactly pushovers. By the way, Saad is barely 20. Assuming he stays healthy, Saad is going to be an absolute terror in a couple years. Even if he doesn’t score a point in this postseason, it has been an overwhelming successful campaign for him.
- With another game tomorrow, there’s no reason to dwell too much on this game. I anticipate seeing a much more assertive Kings team in Game 2. The opening of tomorrow’s game will probably look a lot like the third period. The key for the Hawks will once again to support the puck-carrier, create easy breakouts and not allow the Kings to set up shop behind their net. Offensively, the Hawks are going to get their fair share of chances. Make them count and they’ll put themselves in the driver’s seat for this series.