Another dramatic Chicago Blackhawks’ win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday – a 5-4 shootout win -- deserved a little extra attention:
Jonathan Toews isn’t the only one who impressed Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman. Brent Seabrook had one of his better games and is playing some of his best hockey right now. He had five shots, five hits and one sweet rush into the offensive zone to assist on Patrick Sharp’s goal. He’s plus 12, which is second best on the team and better than his partner, Duncan Keith, who is considered a lock for the Olympic squad. Seabrook may have just joined him there.
Just like that, the Hawks have four players with exactly 10 goals. Three of the scorers on Friday night reached that plateau, and now at least six players -- I’m not even counting Marian Hossa -- are on pace for 20 or more. The Hawks may not have a 40-goal scorer this season, but the way they spread the production out is wreaking havoc on opposing coaches. Who do you match-up against?
Speaking of match-ups, Joel Quenneville hasn’t said this yet, but he has to finally be enjoying his line combinations. The Toews line is clicking just as it did last year, and John Madden’s new line with Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg are doing the same. Sharp with Marian Hossa and Andrew Ladd have been a bit slower to jell, but not much. These three lines could stay together for a while.
To borrow a phrase from Jeff Joniak, who calls Bears games on the radio, the way the Hawks are playing in overtime and now shootouts is “Ridiculous.” They’re 8-0-3 in overtime this season, and if the Hawks’ skill and speed doesn’t win during wide-open four-on-four play, then that skill will usually shine in shootouts. Toews has simply become a shootout master, and with a healthy Hossa, does any team boast as good a threesome as those two with Patrick Kane? Pittsburgh might come close. That’s about it. Toews is a “ridiculous” 10-of-18 in his career in the shootout. Boston’s leadoff man Friday night Patrice Bergeron has tallied 11 times, but he's needed 38 chances. It's a vivid example of Toews' excellence.
Can’t say for sure how much missing Niklas Hjalmarsson affected the game, but it’s safe to say it did. The players admitted this was the first wide-open affair they’ve had in some time, and while it was fun, it’s probably not the formula they’ll use every night. “Too many odd-man rushes,” quipped Brent Sopel afterwards. “We can’t allow that.” Hjalmarsson seems like a useful defensive player when a game opens up like that.
The monster that is Zdeno Chara was credited with three hits. One of them was on “little” Kris Versteeg. “He’s a big man,” Versteeg said of the 6-9 defenseman. “It sucks pretty bad when you get a stiff arm from him, so I try to keep my head up when he’s on the ice, and I think every other player in the league does too, because he’ll pretty much end you.”
The Hawks were assessed a season low two penalty minutes while Boston only had four. The grudge match between foes Dustin Byfuglien and Shawn Thorton never materialized.Notes:
Bryan Bickell was sent back down to the minors which could be good news for Hjalmarsson and/or Ben Eager. Eager was a late scratch due to an “upper body” injury. The Hawks could just be saving a day of “cap money” and bring Bickell back up for Sunday’s game. Unless Hjalmarsson is seriously ill, expect his return to the lineup.
The Blackhawks announced that Eddie Olczyk and Troy Murray will be honored with Heritage Nights of their own. Murray will be honored January 14 and Olczyk on April 11.