The game at the United Center on Sunday wasn’t a barn burner but the Blackhawks did what they needed and came away with two points. The Blue Jackets were highly motivated after getting humiliated at the hands of the Canucks in their previous game, but they couldn’t sustain a top effort throughout sixty minutes.
I won’t be so critical as to say the Jackets have only one scorer, Rick Nash. But on many nights they have trouble generating offense when Nash is on the bench. Last night, thanks mostly due to the fine effort from the Bickell-Bolland-Pisani line, Nash wasn’t a factor.
It took the Hawks awhile to get going and they weren’t as crisp as they have been lately. But they stayed together and drew some penalties in the final period and converted on the power play. They might not have won this type of game back in October or November.
Unless the injury bug keeps biting the Hawks will be healthy soon and additional lineup adjustments will be needed.
The Hawks have shown they can win a few games in a row on home ice. They have been able to defeat teams which have trouble scoring and really can’t ice three solid lines. Now they will have an opportunity to bring their new found sense of responsibility to the road and do battle with the St. Louis Blues. The Hawks will then return home to face a team that can ice three solid lines, the San Jose Sharks.
Can the renewed work ethic keep on and points continue to accumulate?
I think so, but Joel Quenneville will need to do some tweaking. Quenneville will have to decide on a center to play alongside Marian Hossa. The fourth line will have to provide more to the mix. Minutes need to be spread out amongst the forwards as they have been with the top four defensemen. It’s a long season and the dog days are coming. To beat the better teams and finish with a top four playoff slot the Hawks will need to stay sharp and continue to improve.
There is reason for optimism as it appears everyone is buying into their role. Hossa was the best player on the ice and he made his mark by going straight to the net.
There haven’t been too many high cycles these days. Now playing north and south is the preferred way to score for the Hawks. Hossa led the charge and didn’t seem to miss a beat as he makes everyone better.
The word from those who watch the team practice everyday is Patrick Kane appears close to returning.
Maybe the Hawks wait until the Sharks’ game on Thursday to bring back Kane. It isn’t so much Kane has trouble doing the drills at practice, but there still must be soreness, and rushing won’t help. Kane’s eagerness to return from injury probably needs to be tempered. He may have cost himself additional time off by trying to rush back before Christmas.
Tomas Kopecky played center alongside Hossa on Sunday.
Hossa likes to play with a left handed center. The Blackhawks would love Kopecky to be that left handed center to feed Hossa the puck, but I have my doubts. He falls short in many of the qualifications needed to be a center.
Kopecky is not a playmaker, although he can dish off to Hossa and get out of the way. But his defensive shortcomings are probably the reason he won’t cut it as a second line center. Also Kopecky has been awful in the faceoff circle.
That really leaves only one other choice for second line center, unless someone is acquired through trade.
Center Jake Dowell shoots left, can win faceoffs and has been defensively responsible. Dowell has 14 points on the season, seven less than Kopecky, but there is no real comparison. Kopecky often plays top six minutes and gets power play time. Dowell plays many shifts alongside an anchor, John Scott. He also gets far less ice time than Kopecky and is never used on the power play.
As far as I’m concerned Dowell has the potential to score as much or more than Kopecky. Dowell is stronger on his skates than Kopecky and will be able to crash the net and look for rebounds.
Kopecky probably will be given a longer audition at center than just one night. He did score a goal against the Jackets, but Hossa was the show. Kopecky had his typical game in the faceoff circle. He was 2 of 7 for 29%, as Dowell won 4 of 5 for 80%. Dowell deserves a chance for more ice time, but Quenneville might be reluctant to change.
Fire sales in New Jersey and in other non-playoff cities should begin soon.
Stan Bowman doesn’t have much wiggle room even though players which could help the Hawks will be available. Maybe Bowman can add a defender but to trade for a top six center might not be possible. The Hawks currently have only a small amount of cap space.
The other choice to center for Hossa would be Jonathan Toews. That could work but I can’t see Kopecky centering Kane and Patrick Sharp. If Sharp is to stay at wing, which now appears to be the choice of management, the Hawks could still give Dowell a chance.
Dave Bolland is starting to round into form. Bolland, Ferando Pisani and Bryan Bickell are playing well together and that line should be left alone. When everyone is healthy Ryan Johnson should center the fourth line as Scott needs to take a seat.
I understand why Scott dressed last night and he will most likely play against St. Louis as well. But for the most part Scott has to be used only in special situations, if at all. Scott can’t find a player to fight on most nights. Just ask Dowell, as he recorded his seventh fighting major versus the Jackets.
Scott’s presence in the lineup didn’t deter Columbus rookie Tom Sisto from pasting Duncan Keith late in the game. Scott played four shifts in the third period, about two or three more than usual, as the Hawks were winning by more than on goal. But he isn’t on the ice often enough to change the behavior of most. Plus with the instigator rule Scott can’t just take matters into his own hands. Dowell will still be fighting as many teams don’t have a heavyweight for Scott.
For one of the few times this season Scott made a nice pass, which sprung Jack Skille just before his penalty shot. But really Scott is too slow to contribute and is only good for one thing. He is a luxury item the Hawks can’t afford to use as much in the second half of the season, if everyone is healthy.
Quenneville could really roll twelve forwards if he could find the right mix for the fourth line. If Johnson is in at center, Skille and Viktor Stalberg may fight it out for a lineup spot. Pisani is experienced and versatile, he will proabbly continue to dress. The competition for playing time will be fierce.
Marty Turco played well, he looked prepared and wasn’t too rusty. But Turco, like a lot of small goal tenders, makes things interesting around his crease. By Turco not securing loose pucks the Jackets took more shots than they should have and had more chances to score.
It sounds too simplistic to say smaller goal keepers no longer have a place in the NHL, but they are at a disadvantage.
Some of Turco’s difficulties last night came as a result of the Hawks defensemen not being physical enough. Only Brent Seabrook can consistently knock an opponent off his skates. Give Turco credit, he didn’t allow a score because of a goal mouth scramble, although the opportunity was there.
Hannu Toivonen has been sent back to Rockford, so Corey Crawford is probably feeling well enough to play against the Blues.
Quenneville may go right back to Crawford although Turco was good against the Jackets. Either way Crawford will probably face the Sharks if he doesn’t start in St. Louis.
Cam Janssen will likely give Scott another try. Janssen is a very good fighter and he has a head like a cement block. The longer the fight goes the more problems for Scott. Janssen might be able to last, so Scott needs to be ready.
To beat the Blues the Hawks will have to be in defense first mode. They need to get bodies to the St. Louis net as Jaroslav Halak is not a giant. The Hawks have stayed disciplined, avoided bad penalties and they must do the same versus the Blues. The Hawks have the depth to beat St. Louis five on five.
The Blues won’t be easy, they never are.
It has been reported Jeremy Morin has suffered a significant shoulder injury during an opening round WJHC game on Sunday night.
No other details are available, but supposedly Morin’s injury will keep him out for the rest of the tourney.
Hopefully Morin has not suffered a rotator cuff injury which could require surgery and keep him out for the rest of the year.
It was reported locally on Monday night that Kane will play and Turco will start in goal versus the Blues.
As we quickly approach the halfway point of the season a couple of stats jump out.
The Hawks lost a total 220 man games last season due to injury. So far they have lost only 56 man games…It seems like the number of games lost should be higher.
Certainly the injuries have happened to key players this season. But the Hawks are well behind last year’s mark. The depth of the Cup winning team was amazing.
One important stat which can be a sign of a good team is goals scored while playing five on five.
Before Sunday, the Hawks scored 74 goals while giving up 67 when skating five on five.
For the Hawks to continue to roll toward a top spot in the playoffs that margin should keep widening.
Maybe because of injuries the Hawks haven’t been vey good while playing four on four.
Not including Sunday, they have scored only three times while giving up five goals when skating four on four.
With the amount of skill that ratio should be slanted in favor of the Hawks.
The Hawks are the least penalized team in the Western Conference, which is a significant accomplishment.
On Sunday, the NFL was quick to call off a game on the East Coast becasue of a snow storm.
The NHL chose to play games in front of sparse crowds of 3,000 or so….Go figure.
About the Author: