For the third year in a row, the Blackhawks faced the Avalanche in the midst of a hot streak. During the Cup run, the Hawks played the Avalanche three times in their first 20 games when the Avalanche had one of the best records in the league at the time. All three went to the shootout with the Hawks winning two of them. Last year, the Hawks played Colorado back-to-back in December when the Avalanche were playing their best hockey of the season. And this year, who else but the Hawks would welcome them home after a 5-0 road trip.
The game was as entertaining as promised.
–The Hawks were terrific on their face-off set plays tonight. I counted at least three times when the Hawks got prime scoring opportunities off their face-offs. The most obvious was the one that the broadcast booth replayed when Hjalmarsson hit Marian Hossa with a 60 foot bounce pass off a neutral zone face-off. There was another with Jamal Mayers, Viktor Stalberg, and Marcus Kruger early in the third that led to a great scoring chance. Mayers won it back to Stalberg who pushed the puck towards the net. Kruger was waiting for the puck but shot it just wide.
The other one that jumps out was a wheel play involving Patrick Kane in the first period. After winning the draw back to the point, Kane swung around and got the puck back. Carcillo and Hossa were crowding the net as Kane fired it towards them. Again, no goal, but a very solid scoring chance.
If anything, the Hawks are showing far more creativity in their face-off plays than they have in years past.
–Defensively speaking, the Hawks were very solid tonight. Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy actually looked like a defensive pair that was working in anticipation with each other. Before Patrick Sharp’s goal, Keith obviously pinched on Daniel Winnik to force the play. The more important thing, to me at least, was Leddy supporting Keith’s pinch by backing him up. It shows Leddy learned from his mistake in the Boston game where he got caught spectating instead of anticipating what his partner was doing.
The other two pairs were also very good. The Avalanche didn’t have many, if any, second chance opportunities which is a credit to the defense and of course Corey Crawford.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Sami Lepisto taking Sean O’ Donnell’s place on Saturday against the extremely quick Avalanche forwards but glancing at the ice times, it seems like Montador would get the ticket to the press box after playing only 12 minutes. Besides, when it comes to big, slow, aging defenseman, Joel Quenneville would just as soon give up a kidney before sitting them down.
–I’m pretty sure Mike Kitchen would have been more than happy to continue his conversation with Pat and Eddie before the third period. The puck had dropped and Kitchen didn’t seem all too concerned about it as he kept talking.
–For as strong as the Avalanche forwards are, their defense is the definition of mediocre. Erik Johnson can only do so much and if the Avalanche defense continue to keep chasing the Hawks behind the net on Saturday, Joe Sacco should be fired on the spot. The whole game turned when the Hawks realized late in the first period that the Avalanche defense lacked discipline deep in their own end. After that, the Hawks generated a ton of high quality scoring chances only to be turned away by Seymon Varlamov more often than not. Nevertheless, both Hawk goals originated from behind the Colorado net.