The Blackhawks were the better team for most of the contest against the Flyers but Philadelphia was opportunistic and deserved the 3-2 victory.
The Flyers defense was strong and made fewer mistakes which were the difference between a win and a loss for the Hawks. Defensive miscues weren’t the Hawks only shortcoming as Patrick Kane had another off game.
Maybe the Olympic stress has caught up with Kane. Another Olympian Brent Seabrook, wasn’t at his best either.
Kane is making the game more complicated than needed and lately has resembled a struggling Kris Versteeg.
Kane has passed up shots and the play has ended with him too often in the last few games. That has led to odd man breaks against and squandered scoring chances for the Hawks.
As pointed out last Sunday Kane is also overstaying his shifts.
Hawks commentator Ed Olczyk mentioned Kane was averaging 1:18 on each shift in the second period….too long. For the game Marian Hossa averaged only 45 seconds a shift and Jonathan Toews shift average was 53 seconds. Kane’s average for the game was 1:01 each shift and that has to change.
Kane’s extended stays will be on Joel Quenneville’s to do list.
Now for the good news….
The Hawks had their most complete effort in weeks. They skated well and stuck to their structure for three periods. Their performance didn’t drop off.
Kris Versteeg has looked like a different player of late.
Maybe the influence of John Madden and the steady Andrew Ladd has rubbed off. Versteeg has simplified his game and has gone to the net. The results speak for themselves.
The Flyers took advantage of Hawk miscues in the last three minutes but Cristobal Huet couldn’t be faulted. Actually Huet was very good, much better than any Hawk goalie has been in quite awhile.
Quenneville made the obvious goal tending choice for Saturday.
His thinking probably was it would be better to get Huet going on the road. Also neither Hawk goalie was going to start both afternoon contests this weekend. Niemi will get his chance on Sunday versus the skilful Capitals.
All season the Hawks bench boss has done a great job of stifling any goal tending controversy. Now it would be nice if both goalies played equally well and there was some debate as to who should be the top keeper.
For now it appears to be Niemi’s job to lose but nothing is etched in stone for the playoffs.
Many believe the Hawks and Capitals are the two best teams in the NHL. Some think they will face each other in the Stanley Cup finals.
A strong case could be made so far that the Hawks have been the better more consistent team although the Caps have earned more points. Chicago has had the tougher schedule and hasn’t been completely healthy for any game this season until last weekend. The Capitals will catch the Blackhawks in the last half of one of many back to back games this season.
It doesn’t matter much who the stronger club is in March. Both teams can reach their Conference finals and then again it wouldn’t be shocking if neither did.
Goalies, Goalies, Goalies???
The belief across the NHL is the Hawks and Caps have suspect goal tending. It will be interesting to see how things play out in Chicago and Washington.
In addition there could be another Cup contender with a different starting goalie in the fall. It would not be surprising if the top three teams from this year had different starting goal keepers for next season.
The Capitals could benefit from a Russian connection.
If the Caps fall short on their bid for Lord Stanley maybe they pursue an Olympic teammate of Alex Ovechkin.
It wouldn’t be a shock for the Capitals to make a strong play for the San Jose Sharks number one net minder Evgeni Nabokov this summer. He will become an unrestrictive free agent on July 1.
The Capitals would have to create salary cap space but if goal tending proved to be their Achilles’ heel changes could be made. Although they would probably sacrifice offensive skill to be in a position to acquire Nabokov the move could be necessary.
Not many Hawk fans would assume both Huet and Niemi are a lock to be here next year regardless of post season performance. Once again there are salary cap implications involved.
If the Sharks fail to make strong Cup run anything is possible this summer. They also have to deal with Patrick Marleau becoming an upcoming UFA which could complicate their salary cap situation. Maybe Nabokov would relish a change of scenery to the East Coast and a chance to play with fellow countryman Ovechkin.
Regardless if the Hawks win the Stanley Cup or get eliminated early on it will be an eventful summer for general manager Stan Bowman.
I wonder if the Capitals general manager George McPhee ever wishes he would have re-signed Huet?
There is a lot uncertainty for even the best teams.
Chris Pronger picked the perfect spot to join the rush and scored the game winner. There is no substitute for experience.
Here’ s hoping former Hawk Michael Leighton gets a chance to stay in Philly next season.
Leighton is a scrambler, a little like the Bruins Tim Thomas.
The Hawks will have to play physical against the Caps.
Let’s hope for a great match.
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