Both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers had three full days off prior to the teams’ tilt on Saturday night at the United Center. The Flyers, however, had travel issues, and weren’t able to enjoy a practice prior to the game. Perhaps, that’s the beginning and the end of the game’s story as the ‘Hawks thoroughly trounced the Flyers, out-shotting them 38 to 18 en route to a 5-1 victory in front of a packed west side house.
The ‘Hawks, knowing of the Flyers problems, jumped on them early, scoring two goals in the first three minutes of the first period. The first belonged to Andrew Ladd, who extended his point streak to six games by slamming home a Martin Havlat rebound. Just over a minute later, the Flyers allowed Patrick Sharp into the slot with space – big mistake. Sharp beat Flyer goalie Martin Biron over the glove shoulder with a quick wrister that gave the ‘Hawks a two-goal lead less than three minutes into the contest. Flyers captain Mike Richards was able to add a Flyer tally in the first – his fifteenth – but this one was all ‘Hawks.
A flurry of power play activity to begin the third period blew the game wide open. Brian Campbell gave the ‘Hawks their second two-goal lead of the evening on a one-timer about fifteen feet inside the blue line. Just minutes later, Kris Versteeg tapped in a Dustin Byfuglien rebound, and a minute following the fourth tally, the ‘Hawks added a fifth when Dave Bolland crashed the slot and hammered home a Brian Campbell pass to round out the scoring for the ‘Hawks.
But, on a night when positive stories reigned – the ‘Hawks won their eighth straight while setting a regular season attendance record – Friday’s edition of Eight’s a Crowd took a rather unexpected turn when Cam Barker (3 goals, 14 assists in 23 games) did not emerge for pre-game warm-ups. Though the Blackhawks are saying he has a “lower body injury,” (Did Santa bring him a skateboard for Christmas?) the decision may ultimately drop the slow-footed Barker out of the ‘Hawks’ top-six and probably down to Rockford. His absense left a noticeable void in the power play (the very – and only – reason for my surprise regarding his scratch), which Duncan Keith attempted to fill during the first two periods. Keith and Campbell had little success at the blue line, however, with each defenseman hesitating to take a one-time slap shot; the move also seemingly forced Campbell off the boards and onto the blue line on the man-advantage, changing the power play’s “umbrella” feel. But, Coach Quennville moved James Wisniewski into the Barker/Keith spot to begin the third period, and Wiz received the primary assist on a power play tally less than a minute into the period. The swap relegated Keith back to “quarterback” status on the second unit, where he should stay, in my opinion. Brent Sopel was the other scratch, as Aaron Johnson rejoined Brian Campbell, and Wiz saw action with Chris Pronger – I mean, Matt Walker – on the third pairing. My opinion: so long as Q is comfortable with replacing Barker on the power play, which won’t be easy, he likely belongs in Rockford. With the ‘Hawks needing a “shot” at the top to keep the top box defenders honest, Duncan Keith is not the answer. With right-handed shots, perhaps Wiz or Brent Seabrook will provide options as the “shot.” Otherwise, playing Keith on top allows the top killers to cheat and clog the slot to defend playmakers Patrick Kane and Sharp.
The game was the Blackhawks final home game before next Thursday’s contest versus the Detroit Red Wings. The ‘Hawks visit the Wild and the ‘Wings prior to the New Year’s Day match-up.