Outside of a few minutes to begin the game and a needless third period, the Blackhawks dominated their division foes, the Nashville Predators, in Nashville on Thursday evening, and stretched their record to 5-1-1 on the young, but promising campaign.
As luck would have it, the Hawks would turn to their embattled goaltender early. Just minutes into the game, Predator forwards went post-to-post with the puck, but the outstretched left leg of Cristobal Huet was waiting on the other side, keeping the young contest scoreless. From there, the Hawks dominated play, out-shooting the Preds 12-5 during the first frame.
Importantly, the Hawk defensemen were forcing Predator forwards to make plays before, or at the top of, the zone. This pressed Nashville into a dump-and-chase game, only the Preds’ “chase” was ineffective. Among the Hawk defensemen who squashed any Predator hopes to produce offense was Ham Sandwich, who continually used his body artfully to shield away forecheckers while finding an outlet pass out of the zone.
The Hawks didn’t waste much time in the second, as Dustin Byfuglien potted a rebound for his fourth of the year, making the most of a clean face-off win by Dave Bolland and a Brent Seabrook shot that hit the post behind Predators netminder Pekka Rinne. Shortly thereafter, Rockford IceHawk Jack Skille forced a turnover behind the Predator net, and Colin Fraser beautifully scooped a loose puck over to Tomas Kopecky for his first goal as a Blackhawk.
Not to be completely outdone, though, the Predators forced the play deep into the Blackhawk zone, where a loose puck hit the skate of Ham Sandwich and deflected by Huet to cut the Hawk lead in half.
That all happened within the first four minutes of the second period.
The only scoring during the neutral third was Duncan Keith’s deflected blast from the top of the circles, which came courtesy of Jonathan Toews following a Brent Seabook keep-in on the other side of the ice. It gave the Hawks their two-goal lead back and a usually difficult two points in Tennessee.
Yo, Listen Up to These Words
— The 5-1-1 mark gives the Hawks the franchise’s best start since 1982-83.
— Amidst all the Cristbal Huet hoopla that has been the last week in newbie douchenozzle land, I couldn’t help but feel like we’ve been here before.
And, when Dustin Byfuglien’s fourth goal of the young season hit the back of the twine during yesterday evening’s second period, so too did my revelation: Huet is this year’s Byfuglien.
Don’t you remember it? (Of course, you remember it. It was like four months ago.) Big Buff was nearly run out town for his significantly sized, yet market-value contract and his lack of tangible contributions. Sure, we tried to calm the masses, but it did no good. Just weeks into the season, presumably the same guy who unfurled the “One Goal: Trade Huet” banner at Wednesday night’s game pleaded with Dale Tallon to trade the emerging winger for … wait for it … Michael Nylander. Well, wouldn’t that have been a coo for the Washington Capitals.
See? Now my blood pressure’s up, and rather than risk inflicting damaging blunt trauma on my keyboard, I’ll let that little, fuzzy memory sink in and speak for itself.
Just the thought of trying to quiet these idiots for the rest of the season makes me tired already.
UPDATE: The other obvious comparison is Brian Campbell, who drew the wrath of the hockey stupid last season. Campbell was brought in two offseasons ago to jumpstart the power play and add points from the back, but was a target from day one for a perceived lack of defensive prowess – nevermind most naysayers were merely parroting other, more senior idiots. He struggled through the “boos” and harsh criticism, which must be tough for any player, regardless of stature, pay or experience. Fastforward: Campbell was an absolute pillar come playoff time, and he’s currently second in the league in scoring among defensemen.
— Brent Seabrook had two assists and played absolutely fabulously in his own zone. It took me a while, but, yes, I’m ready to proclaim him and Keith a top-five NHL pairing.
— For as good as Seabrook’s been, Cam Barker’s been just as bad.
— Five wins in seven games hasn’t provided ample opportunities for Joel Quenneville to make adjustments, but his decision to swap Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd has seemingly hit the spot for the young Hawks. Ladd has played a much needed role for Toews and Patrick Sharp, while the Versteeg/Brouwer/Madden line … gulp … reminded me of the Havlat/Ladd/Bolland marriage from last season yesterday night. The subtle change gives the Hawks three offensively dangerous lines even before Marian Hossa makes his Hawk debut in about six weeks, and oddly enough, seems to bring out the best in Versteeg.
— The defensemen must have a bet among themselves, with the winner being the player with the most shots on goal at the end of the year. Shots from the point are coming fast and furious, and there are no complaints here.
— Patrick Sharp’s historic point streak – the one where he played comparatively poorly but pocketed points in six straight games – is over.
— Martin Erat has a career because of the Blackhawks. He didn’t have a point until yesterday evening.
*On the Farm*
Shawn Lalonde had two assists in Belleville’s game on Wednesday against Oshawa. That gives the defenseman five goals and eight assists in nine games.