After the previous two games Corey Crawford has taken his spot between the pipes, the Blackhawks unfortunately were unable to walk away with the win but it wasn’t their weak defense that I listened to people complain about. Apparently the only person on the ice who was at fault for the losses was Crawford. So if you were/are one of those people who continues to complain about Crawford, please continue reading because I am going to be talking to you.
First of all, I will not deny Crawford let in at least one weak goal in both the game against St. Louis and the one against Tampa Bay. However, the far bigger issue in both those games as well as THE ONLY OTHER GAME THEY HAVE PLAYED THIS SEASON (before tonight) against Washington is the weak defense. Multiple defenders have made some pretty big contributions on offense so far this season. In the first game of the season against the Capitals, Hjalmarsson had two assists, Rozsival and Keith both had one. In game two of the season against the Lightning, Hjalmarsson and Leddy each had one. Clearly the Blackhawks are finding success when the defensemen are more involved on offense but that leaves a lot of opportunity for fast breaks from opposing teams that leave Crawford, or whoever is in net, far more vulnerable.
Aside from that even when the defenders are in their own zone the play is particularly soft. We have seen this before. The Blackhawks are not an aggressive team but when they do step up and battle for position in front of the net they have found more success. Hopefully the team will recall that success in the next couple games and realize they can not allow opposing teams to set up in front of their goaltender.
Another thing to remember in all this is that Crawford has never been the most consistent goalie. He tends to run on hot and cold streaks but when Crawford is on he can be strong, agile and incredibly difficult to score on. He also tends to warm up as the season goes on. Give him and the rest of the team a chance to reconnect with each other and learn the little intricacies of each others play. There are a few new faces on the ice and Coach Quenneville really enjoys mixing up the lines on a regular basis.
So please cut it out with all the negative talk, stop counting them out of the postseason FOUR games into the season and have a little bit of faith. If you happen to be a newer fan, I’d just like to point out you were spoiled last season. It is not common to open up the season without a regulation loss in 24 games. Settle in and enjoy the season, it is only just starting. A hockey season isn’t like football, there is PLENTY of time to turn things around. Give Q and the rest of the team a chance to work through the minor bumps. If things aren’t better in a couple weeks then please feel free to express your frustrations, especially considering the division the Hawks are playing in but for right now just enjoy hockey and work on seeing the entire game and the way things unfold and look for the weaknesses on other parts of the ice besides the goaltender.
Once again, the Blackhawks defenders had quite an impact on tonight’s game. Chicago came out strong with two goals including Joakim Nordstrom getting his first NHL goal with the assist from a fellow Swed, Niklas Hjalmarsson. Toews had the second goal with the assists coming from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Keith had a strong night offensively, although not scoring any goals he had two assists and the first two goals were the result of a second chance opportunity from his shots on net.
Unfortunately at the end of the first, the Islanders had two quick goals, one coming from Josh Bailey during a delayed penalty and less than a minute later with about five seconds left in the period Kyle Okposo tied it up on the power play. Giving up back to back goals is dangerously close to becoming a trend for the Blackhawks.
Luckily it didn’t seem to phase the Hawks too much coming into the second period. They came out focused and Handzus scored the go-ahead goal with a strong wrist shot on net about six and a half minutes in with assists from Keith and Ben Smith. The game ended with strong shots on goal from both sides, especially in the last minute when the Islanders pulled their goalie to add the extra man on offense, however with a little bit of luck and some strong defensive plays on Chicago’s end, New York was unable to capitalize and the Hawks secured the victory.
Chicago doesn’t have much time to rest and reflect on this game considering they will be right back on home ice Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo will be looking for their first win of the season and will likely come out strong since they have nothing to lose. They are hungry for a win and will be aggressive and focused. Ryan Miller should be the opposing goaltender and is a pillar for the Sabres team.
The rest of October will be tough for the Hawks playing every game either back to back or with only one day off in between. Hopefully fatigue will not become an issue and the Hawks continue to find success and opportunities to improve upon their weaknesses in all aspects of their game.
Just as the skies opened up in Chicago, the Lightning came alive twelve minutes into the third period. With a strong backhand shot by St. Louis, the Lightning cut the Blackhawks 2-0 lead in half. Less than a minute later Toews puts a stick in the face of Tyler Johnson putting Tampa Bay on the power play. Thirty seconds in the Lightning tie it up with a goal by Teddy Purcell. The Blackhawks had a chance to take back the lead when Valtteri Filppula was called for a high stick on Brent Seabrook. The next two minutes were full of scrambles and rebound opportunities, however Chicago was unable to put the puck in the net. Neither team was able to capitalize in overtime forcing the game to a shootout.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa all had opportunities to help lead the Hawks to the win but Ben Bishop stayed strong between the pipes never allowing the puck to pass him. On the other end Filppula scored against Corey Crawford, the only player to score in the shootout, and lead Tampa Bay to the 3-2 win.
Bishop had a stellar performance with 37 saves, only two allowed, and ended the night with a .949 save percentage. Had it not been for one poor decision midway through the first period, the Lightning may have been able to win the game in regulation. Bishop was caught anticipating to play the puck behind his net while Chicago was on the power play. The puck was dumped into Tampa Bay ice but took a strange bounce off the boards sending it into the blue ice directly in front of the Lightning net. Bishop hustled to try and make it back for the save but was unable to beat an alert Brandon Saad who tapped the puck across the line and gave Chicago the 2-0 lead.
On the other end of the ice, Crawford wasn’t challenged often. Tampa Bay hadn’t had a shot on goal until halfway through the second period. The Lightning only tallied 16 shots on goal for the game but were able to get two past Crawford less than two minutes apart. Martin St. Louis scored first with a strong backhand shot off a Crawford rebound then set up Teddy Purcell who scored the tying goal firing a shot past Crawford on his struggling glove side.
The Blackhawks continued to struggle on the power play only converting on one of five opportunities. The Hawks also seem to be struggling on the penalty kill which looked much stronger last season. In the season opener, Chicago gave up three goals during Washington’s six power play opportunities and last night allowed the game tying goal while on the PK against Tampa Bay.
The Blackhawks will have three days to work out any kinks before their next challenge which comes on Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues, probably the toughest team they will face in their division. Chicago will go into St. Louis with a 1-0-1 record while St. Louis is tied for first in the Central with Colorado and Winnipeg, all with a 2-0-0 record.