Byfuglien Flies Like Dust In the Wind
Now Playing: Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same
Although I’m still not totally convinced that it wasn’t Patrick Kane wearing a #33 sweater screaming down the left boards with under 90 seconds left in overtime Wednesday night, it was a spectacular end to a hard fought win improving the Blackhawks record against Original 6 teams this year to 3-1. It also pushed their record in the last 14 games to 11-2-1, and capturing 23 out of a possible 28 points. The Blackhawks have continued to look impressive as of late, including dumping the defending Stanley Cup Champions in their own building. However, there are still some questions out there. In the six games since the 7-2 thumping of the Sharks, the Blackhawks have only put more than two goals on the board once (and that was a 4-3 shootout win over Columbus, so it was really only three goals scored). I don’t believe this is a cause for concern as far as scoring potency. I see it as a young, talented team learning how to win games when they run into things like a hot goaltender or an off night offensively. Every team is going to have those games, and sometimes even those stretches. What makes a Stanley Cup caliber team is how well they weather those stretches, minimizing losses until the rig gets back on the road.
Two reasons the Blackhawks have gotten better at this in the ‘09-’10 season is the addition of veteran insight from Marian Hossa and John Madden. While their offensive numbers are pretty impressive - Madden: 5G, 5A; Hossa: 3G, 4A in only 7 games - they have brought some essential intangible values. They have taught players like Kane, Byfuglien, Jonathan Toews, and Troy Brouwer the art of the backcheck and how to throw your body around. I see all of those guys (and many more) going into corners and fighting for pucks with more frequency and aggression than I did last season. While because of his size Kaner might not always win the battle, he will cause havoc and possibly create that extra turnover or two that can tip the game in your favor. Another perfect example is Byfuglien’s overtime winner Wednesday. As he set a land-speed record for his weight class in his drive past Matt Gilroy to the net, notice how he really used his entire body to shield the puck and deny any chance the defensemen had at getting to the puck without risking a penalty or possibly a penalty shot. This is the same manner in which Hossa has been undressing blue-liners for years in the NHL. That’s not to say I expect Buff to score 35 goals this year and get 2-3 breakaways every night, but it’s nice to know he’s been paying attention and that he and his teammates are open to the knowledge that some of the more traveled guys have to impart on them.
The other notable contribution from the new veterans is the penalty kill, aka the John Madden Show. This was maybe a more exciting acquisition in my mind than Hossa. Maybe. I’ve always enjoyed watching John Madden play. The guy works like a dog, and gets rewarded with tons of icetime when the team is down a man and/or has a life or death faceoff to win. That experience has helped create the most aggressive penalty kill I can ever remember seeing in Chicago. They are leading the NHL with 6 shorthanded goals and some in fifth overall at 84.7% effectiveness. I was talking with someone earlier tonight, and he called him one of the best two-way centers to play the game. I would say he’s at the very least in that team photo, and we’re damn glad to have him here in Chicago.
The recent offensive slowdown is also in part due to the fact that teams are really gearing up to face the Blackhawks. They’re studying the tape, and as Teemu Selanne and Jordan Staal said of recent matchups with the Hawks, many teams are using them as the gold standard for where their team is at based on how they fare head-to-head. The trend was first really noticeable in the home loss to Nashville. The Predators really concentrated on gumming up the works in the neutral zone, giving the Hawks fits as it seemed there was a ten foot wall at the Nashville blue line. It was also very evident in Wednesday’s tilt with the Rangers. New York would stand four and sometimes five guys on the blue line and stymied the Blackhawks break in for the first 40 minutes of the game. The third period saw adjustments and a lot more dump-ins allowing the Blackhawks to set up their offense which was then extremely dangerous. They peppered the stalwart Henrik Lundqvist with 41 total shots, with the highest number of quality opportunities coming in the third frame. To avoid the early frustrations like those which they experienced against New York, the Blackhawks will have to take the break-in chances when they are there, but not be afraid to throw the puck towards the corner, go get it, then feed it to the firing squad in front and pray for the opposing goaltender’s safety.
After Friday in Buffalo, the Blackhawks come home for five straight, and their 12-3-1 home record tells me that should be a favorable run, including two more Original 6 squads, Boston and Detroit. As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!