It’s hard to imagine Monday night’s game starting off any worse for the Hawks. Coming off two straight losses and with their backup goalie Corey Crawford starting his fifth career game, the Sabres scored a pair of goals within the first three minutes.
Luckily, it didn’t get any worse.
After some sustained pressure from the Sabres, the Hawks finally started getting their legs into the game. Marian Hossa drew a tripping penalty in his own zone and the power play went to work. Thanks to some truly horrendous clearing efforts by the Sabres and solid puck movement from the Hawks, Patrick Kane buried a low wrist from the top of the circles to get the Hawks on the board. Instead of his patented fist pump to celebrate the goal, Kane busted out what could be best described as ‘the sack tickler’ for the hometown crowd.
Towards the end of the first, Niklas Hjalmarsson got a 5 minute boarding call and game misconduct for bouncing Jason Pominville’s head off the boards on a truly dangerous check. Corey Crawford made one huge save in the first minute of the man advantage and the Hawks penalty kill was nails the rest of the way.
The Hawks put their best period of the young season together in the second. They dominated the play on both ends of the ice and their reward was turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Nick Leddy scored the first NHL goal of his career when his point shot bounced all over the place on its way past Ryan Miller. Then Marian Hossa closed out the period with his first snipe job of the night. Hossa faked his typical slap shot from 15 out, waited for Miller to make his move, and then buried the puck past him.
Hossa added his second early in the third when he picked up a loose puck at the Sabres blue line and on a 3-on-2, elected to keep it himself, and beat Miller to the glove side.
Tim Connolly scored two minutes later to cut the lead in half after Jake Dowell had all sorts of problems down low in the defensive zone. Corey Crawford and the Hawks penalty kill stood tall the rest of the way and the 2010-2011 Blackhawks were on the board.
—The Hawks penalty kill was outstanding tonight. They killed all 5 penalties, including what could’ve been a devastating too many men penalty with 2 minutes left in the game. The Sabres rarely had a clean look and when they did, Corey Crawford was there. If the Hawks power play is going to be skittish this year, then they better have a excellent penalty kill. You can win with one unit being mediocre and one unit being excellent. You can’t win when both are mediocre.
–It’s been almost a nightmarish start of the season for Niklas Hjalmarsson. After being on the ice for the first seven goals allowed, Hjalmarsson got ejected for his check on Jason Pominville and will most certainly get a call from the league office.
Things can’t really get worse for him, so here’s hoping it gets better. Because if the excuse for Hjalmarsson’s struggles are Brian Campbell’s absence, then he’s nothing more than a 4th defenseman.
–It took Joel Quenneville nearly a month (counting training camp and pre-season) to realize Troy Brouwer, Dave Bolland, and Bryan Bickell were not a very good combination. Mercifully, he moved Jack Skille and Viktor Stalberg up to Bolland’s line. They responded with some very strong shifts. Skille, in particular, looks like a legitimate top-9 forward for the first time in his career. He’s flying all over the ice and it should be only a matter of time before pucks start finding the back of the net for him.
–Nick Boynton and John Scott should be good enough to get the Hawks to the March trade deadline. Then it’s time to swing a deal or two. Otherwise, you’re just playing with matches over jugs of gasoline.
–The Hawks gave up 35 shots. That’s two of three games so far where the shot totals have bordered on pornographic.
–Hossa’s second goal was especially comforting to see. Hossa, too often, passes up a glorious chance to put the puck on net. Instead, he’s looking to make a pass that isn’t there. For example, in the first period, he completely undressed two Sabre defensemen with a toe-drag move and instead of shooting from 10 feet out, he tried passing it back to Tomas Kopecky. You’re Marian Hossa. He’s Tomas Kopecky. This isn’t difficult to figure out.
–If this is the grand plan for Troy Brouwer this year -playing 9 minutes a night on the 4th line- then the Hawks are better off cutting bait with him before he has zero value left. I’m not sure what Brouwer did to be banished to Never-Never Land but it makes no sense for someone of his ability to see less ice time than Jake Dowell.