The Chicago Blackhawks are headed in the right direction and showed signs of improvement in the season’s third week
The third week of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2016-17 regular season can be called a success; they won two of their three games, and picked up five of six possible points. All the little things are starting to go right.
The players are meshing, and definite progress can be seen. An ugly 3-2 shootout loss last Tuesday to the Calgary Flames has been mostly forgotten. The ‘Hawks went on to beat the New Jersey Devils in overtime by the same score Friday and shut out the L.A. Kings 3-0 last night.
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Here’s a brief overview of each contest.
‘Hawks vs. Calgary Flames: Loss, 3-2 in a shootout
Well, it was a close game, and at least the ‘Hawks got a point, right? Sure, I guess. But if you take a closer look, they lost pretty much every battle and every statistic.
Besides losing the game, they lost the faceoff battle 45-55 percent. The Flames scored on two powerplays, while the ‘Hawks did not score a powerplay goal. The ‘Hawks had 10 penalty minutes; the Flames only had four. The Flames blocked 25 shots to the ‘Hawks’ 13, and they had 11 hits to the Flames’ 35.
Oh, wait! Chicago had 34 shots on goal and Calgary only had 31! Should we lay a wreath?! I think not.
Beyond this, the fourth line played minimal minutes once again, and the first and second lines where therefore forced to be on the ice for heavy minutes in their third game in four nights. And they lost defenseman Gustav Forsling on a hard hit in the second period.
Sure, I guess we could talk about the fact Brian Campbell scored his first goal of the season and has looked especially spry in the last couple of games. Or the that Corey Crawford had a solid game. But for the most part, I’d like to throw this game in the garbage.
Oct 28, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) celebrates after scoring the game winning goal past New Jersey Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid (1) during overtime at Prudential Center. The Blackhawks defeated the Devils 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
‘Hawks at New Jersey Devils: Win, 3-2 in OT
First off, we can put this one in the win column, of course. And the stats did get a little better.
The Chicago Blackhawks won the faceoff battle by going 57 percent overall on the dot. Artem Anisimov, who has been struggling in this area of late, actually won eight of 16 draws. He was also responsible for the game-winning goal in overtime. He now leads the ‘Hawks in points with 10 (another goal on Sunday makes this 11, but I get ahead of myself).
With regard to special teams, the ‘Hawks finally got out of their slump on the powerplay. After going 15 consecutive times and three games without a powerplay goal, they scored two of them against the Devils.
They still have not had a single game this season when they haven’t allowed a powerplay goal against (as of this point). But, after New Jersey scored on its first powerplay try, the ‘Hawks’ penalty kill held the Devils scoreless for the next three tries. Let’s hold on to that and go with it, shall we?
The real problem with this game was shots on goal. The final total was 32-29 Devils, which appears pretty balanced when you put it that way. But the shot differential was 12-7 for the Devils in the first period, and then 16-5 (!) for the Devils in the second period.
It wasn’t until the third period (14-4 SOG, ‘Hawks) and overtime (3-0 SOG, ‘Hawks) that they were beating their opponent with getting pucks to the net.
This slow start in the first two periods is a theme for the ‘Hawks right now. What if they could shoot more in the first two frames? You might score more goals if you shoot the puck, and then not have pull the last-minute heroics all the time.
Crawford has been key for the Chicago Blackhawks. His numbers are skewed a bit because of goals allowed on the penalty kill. But in his first six games, he has only allowed four goals and stopped 129 of 133 shots during 5-on-5 play.
Many people are impressed with Crow’s play so far this season. But Fifth Feather from The Committed Indian really hits the nail on the head.
“Crawford has been able to keep the ‘Hawks in games throughout the early part of the season while the rest of the team settles into the game,” he says. “The ‘Hawks need a goalie that can get them through the tough times and give them an opportunity to win. Crawford has done that.”
Oct 28, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) skates with the puck while being defended by New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy (12) during the first period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
‘Hawks vs. Los Angeles Kings: Win, 3-0
We would be remiss to not mention the ceremony before the game to honor Marian Hossa’s 500 career goals. Well, actually, his youngest daughter stole the show.
Hossa played on the second line with Anisimov and birthday boy Artemi Panarin. They looked great together, having many strong shifts and combining for a beautiful goal in the second period.
There has been some concern about whether the second line could still be strong if Patrick Kane left and moved up to the first line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. But after this game, that doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore.
Speaking of Toews, he picked up his first goal of the season in this game, and also contributed with the assist for Hossa’s empty-net goal toward the end of the game.
The Chicago Blackhawks went 51 percent on the dot in this one. They scored two powerplay goals and killed off two powerplay attempts by the Kings. That’s right: For the first time this season, the ‘Hawks were perfect on the penalty kill!
The ‘Hawks played solidly throughout all three periods, and all four lines contributed in maintaining possession and dominating the game. Coach Q called this the most complete games they have had all season. Now they just need to build on this.
Finally, let’s talk about the ongoing theme from all three of these games: Crawford. Crow made 32 stops Sunday for his 20th career shutout. According to The Athletic’s Scott Powers, he now has made 159 saves on 163 shots for a .975 save percentage in 5-on-5 play. He was appropriately named the first star of the game. Might as well just make that the first star of the season so far.
Things are looking good for the Chicago Blackhawks. They have a busy week coming up, with a rematch against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. Let’s get some revenge on that earlier loss and make it three wins in a row, shall we?
On Thursday, they play the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center before heading to Dallas to take on the Stars on Saturday. And then both teams head back to the United Center to do it all over again on Sunday. Stringing together some wins off of this successful third week could go a long way towards building confidence for the Chicago Blackhawks.