The last two Stanley Cup champions met at the United Center on Saturday night, but it was Tim Thomas and the Boston Bruins who had the last laugh as they beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in a shootout. Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane scored goals for the Hawks, and Tim Thomas made 27 saves and stopped all three Chicago shootout attempts to grab the victory for the defending champs.
Following what has been a pattern for the club in the early going this season, the Blackhawks’ effort Saturday was more about a great offensive attack and some lackluster defense. They looked good in spurts, especially toward the end of the first period, but there were plenty of times, including a large chunk of the third period, when they started chasing the puck more than staying in smart positions, and they gave up a goal because of it. Nathan Horton caught a beautiful pass from Johnny Boychuk just inside the circles and fired it past Corey Crawford, leaving the Blackhawks’ defenders looking foolish for watching the puck instead of keeping the front of the net clear.
Another worrying sign for the Hawks was that they had to once again rely on Duncan Keith to play a lot of minutes. Last year, big minutes and a short summer equaled a rough campaign for the Norris Trophy winner, and this off-season GM Stan Bowman made it a point to add veteran defensive depth to help Keith and Brent Seabrook keep their minutes down. They’ve been largely successful in doing so for the first three games, but Keith ended up playing nearly 29 minutes and Seabrook nearly 26. Obviously the overtime had something to do with that, but it’s a trend that this team cannot afford to keep going.
On one final negative note, Nick Leddy did not look very good in this game. He had several big miscues, including several silly turnovers on careless passes, and he really made Keith have to do a lot of extra work to prevent more scoring opportunities. Leddy’s problems contributed in a big way to the Hawks giving up 37 shots in this one, a number that has to alarm head coach Joel Quenneville. This team has buttered its bread by preventing rubber from reaching the net over the past few seasons, and they cannot keep leaving Crawford out to dry in the manner that they did in this game.
The positive side of the ledger isn’t as long, but there were several positive signs. Even without Marian Hossa in the lineup due to an upper body injury, the team’s offense was moving the puck very effectively for good chunks of the game against a team that is one of the better defensive units in the game. Patrick Sharp had five shots in this one and really helped push the tempo at key intervals, and Patrick Kane had several nice shifts, including a Savard-ian spin-o-rama that nearly netted him a goal against Thomas in the first period.
The Hawks also matched the Bruins’ physicality, and although they were outhit 40-34, they still held their own in a way that they likely couldn’t have done last year. Daniel Carcillo and Jamal Mayers definitely have a lot to do with that, and even John Scott got into the act, throwing four hits in his six minutes of ice time.
Chicago will take some time to rest after getting five of the possible six points available on their home stand before heading out west to do battle with the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night in Glendale. Face-off is at 9pm, and the game can be seen on WGN Radio.
With that, here are Saturday’s Three Stars:
Third Star: Daniel Carcillo
Carcillo arrived with a lot of controversy this off-season after being viewed as a tormentor and general on-ice malcontent by Chicago fans, but the reasons that the team brought him in are quickly becoming apparent. He enabled Chicago to match the Bruins hit for hit in this game, and in slightly under 14 minutes of ice time he threw four hits. His skating ability was also surprisingly fluid, and he may have some offensive game left in his arsenal. Whether that translates into goals created remains to be seen, but there were flashes of brilliance on Saturday night from “Carbomb”, and that has to be promising to Blackhawks’ brass.
Second Star: Patrick Kane
In addition to the Savoir-Faire style spin move he pulled on Thomas, Kane was one of the Hawks’ most active players yet again on offense tonight. He already has five points in the team’s first four games, and he is once again showing the fruits of a hard off-season of working to gain strength. His puck possession has improved once again, and he looks even faster than he has in the past. If he can continue to play with this type of aplomb, he has the potential to threaten the 90 point plateau at least this season with the offense has been clicking.
First Star: Bryan Bickell
Bickell has been called out several times by Quenneville over his career in Chicago for his rather lackluster play at times, but after Quenneville hinted that he was unhappy with him this preseason, Bickell really has upped the ante. He has been throwing hits like nobody’s business, and he has been flashing some prowess in other areas as well. He played 16:41 on Saturday, dishing out six hits and scoring an excellent breakaway goal in the first period. He jumped between two Bruins players near center ice in anticipation of a pass, picking it off and skating in to score a nifty five-hole goal on the Vezina-winning Thomas.
Being able to play smart defensively and maintain a physical edge is always a challenge for a pedal to the metal guy like Bickell, but he really has been displaying those abilities in spades so far on the young season.
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