Patrick Sharp has been out of the Chicago Blackhawks’ lineup for the past four games, but it hasn’t slowed them down one bit. Buoyed by performances from guys up and down the roster, the Hawks have been scoring goals, playing solid defense, and most importantly, picking up points. This weekend was no different, as they got a point yesterday against the Detroit Red Wings, a team with an insane home record this season, and they did it again Sunday night as they took down the San Jose Sharks 4-3 at the United Center.
The Hawks have gotten seven of a possible eight points since Sharp went down, and to get three against two of the best teams in the West shows positive signs for a team whose depth was a huge question mark only a season ago. Dave Bolland, Jonathan Toews, Viktor Stalberg, and Andrew Shaw all scored goals for the Hawks in this one, and Corey Crawford, despite some struggles early in the second period, made 21 saves en route to the victory.
As opposed to yesterday’s effort that saw the Hawks only really play a solid 20 minutes against the Wings, they looked a lot more consistent in this game. They made it a point to constantly put shots on net against former Chicago goaltender Antti Niemi, and they got a ton of traffic to the front of the net as well. In all, they ended up with 40 shots in the game, and that extra traffic directly led to several of their goals.
Toews’ tally in the second period came on a rush that saw Niemi misplay a puck behind the net, and when Stalberg’s aggressive forecheck prevented the Sharks from snagging the puck, Patrick Kane found Toews streaking to the net, and he got an easy tap-in to give Chicago a 3-2 lead. Following that early in the third, Shaw was on the rush with Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa, and when Kruger put a shot on net, Shaw not only put a rebound effort on Niemi but kept following it until he tapped a loose puck into an open cage. It was a testament to the validity of the Hawks’ philosophy of taking lots of shots and being physical in front, and the two points they got were well earned.
Kane also had a better game than he had Saturday in Detroit, getting several good opportunities and even contributing in a surprising way to the Toews goal alluded to earlier. Kane was skating up ice, and he surely had noticed that the Sharks’ defenders had been collapsing on him all night long. In response, Kane hit a nice chip-shot into the corner instead of trying to bulldoze through the defenders, and the end result was the Toews goal. It was an underrated play that lots of guys make, but with a guy who has puck-handling skills like Kane does, the hockey IQ displayed on that one was heartening for fans to say the least.
The only reason San Jose was able to stay close was their uncanny ability to tip pucks in front. On several instances, pucks were redirected right in front of Crawford, and on one play in particular on a shot by Patrick Marleau, two different Sharks redirected the same shot. The puck didn’t end up going in, but it was reflective of the good positioning of the Sharks’ players near the goal area, and disrupting those opportunities is something that Chicago will need to work on moving forward.
The Hawks will have a couple of days off after playing a ton of games recently, and they will next take to the ice Wednesday night against the Buffalo Sabres. The game starts a little earlier than usual for a home game, with a 6:30pm puck drop on NBC Sports Network.
With that, here are Sunday’s Three Stars:
Third Star: Patrick Kane
Kane’s efforts have to be recognized, especially because of that smart dump-in of the puck on the Toews goal. In addition, Kane took a lot more initiative on the offensive side of things in this one, taking five shots and looking way more aggressive than he has in recent weeks. He’s way overdue for a goal, but if he keeps getting chances like he did in this one, he’ll put one in sooner rather than later.
Second Star: Viktor Stalberg
Stalberg has seemingly turned his game up a notch in recent weeks, and he had another great one on Sunday. In addition to his goal late in the first period, it was his aggressive forecheck behind the Sharks’ net that allowed the puck to squirt free to Kane, who fed it to Toews for his score. Oh yeah, he also had four takeaways and six shots on goal. For right now at least, the Hawks’ top line appears to be set in stone, a real departure from the way Joel Quenneville usually does business.
First Star: Andrew Shaw
One glance at Shaw’s stat line is enough to tell you how stupid good of a game he had. Not only did he score a huge insurance goal in the third period, but he also had five total shots on goal, three hits, and won all six of the face-offs he took, including two against an elite center in Joe Thornton. His 17 minutes on the ice were incredibly productive, and when you consider that he was a fifth round draft pick in 2011, the enormity of his contributions has been mind-boggling. Add in the selections of Brandon Saad (who looked good in his stint with the club earlier in the year) and Mark McNeill (universally considered a steal by the Hawks in the first round), and the 2011 Draft Class could be providing depth for this team for a long time to come.