Since Sam already provided a nicely succinct recap of last night's game, I'll just move right along to some observations of my own that I took away from it.
- Most, if not everyone I spoke to was completely stupefied as to why Dustin Byfuglien received the lone minor during the session of slap-dick in front of the Vancouver net towards the end of the first period. Liberties were being taken on Kane, and Buff sprung forth like the burly protector he's supposed to be to his linemate's defense. Once the scrum ensued, everything was pretty equal, with shots headed both ways. This is not the first time something like this has happened in the NHL, and it had all the markings of the refs letting both sides walk away with a stern talking-to, or take someone from each team with matching minors. Vancouver scored on the resultant power play less than a minute into the second, tying the game at 1, and started to tilt the ice in their favor. Now, I'm in no way blaming this call for a Hawks loss. The way they played, they deserved the outcome they received. But the Hawks caught the business end of a bad call in this scenario.
- The Hawks powerplay is in complete disarray right now. Last season they found success in using a hybrid overload-into-an-umbrella-and-back style, which siphoned everything through the playmaker at the half-wall, allowing either Patrick Kane or Martin Havlat to dictate whether the puck was moving high to the blue line for a point shot, low for a stuff attempt, or back-door cross-ice. The latter is where Patrick Sharp found a lot of success, and eventually teams cheated toward this play.
This year, Quenneville seems intent on just working the puck high, blasting slapshots from the point, and creating traffic in front. There's nothing inherently wrong with this style, but the Hawks d-men have exhibited a very poor shooting bias to this point, which completely screws the pooch if you're going to run it that way. This has resulted in a lot of blocked shots by opposing forwards. Five-on-three, the Hawks change little, content to keep the puck on one side of the ice, and trying to get a shot from the middle of the ice at the blue line. This is flawed thinking. On a 5-on-4, a team wants to work a puck vertically- high to low, and low to high- to widen the gap between penalty killing forwards and defensemen, creating seams between them to be able to move the puck toward the middle of the ice for a shot with no shin pads in front of it. During a two man advantage, it's lateral movement, to get the goalie to have to come across his crease to make a save, because the seams will already be there due to a lack of bodies on the ice.
I'm not sure if the loss of JHC prompted this change in philosophy, or if Marian Hossa's presence will signal a return to it, but it's certainly worth trying now, because what they're doing simply is not working.
- As Killion noted in the preview, I was excited to see Jordan Hendry skate last evening. I liked what he showed two seasons ago, and think he's ideally suited for the third pairing (and is certainly a more reasonably priced option to do so). Part of me also wanted to see how Cam Barker would fare with a partner who could actually move his feet as well; someone who doesn't have the skating stride of a person who desperately needs to take a massive shit. Having a more mobile, heady partner worked for Brian Campbell, why not for Barker? Hendry acquitted himself fine; if not for his newfound presence in the lineup, he would not have been noticeable on the ice, either positively or negatively- which is all you can ask of a #6 defenseman. However, as Sam noted already, it didn't have a positive effect on Cam Barker, which is not good. Cam Barker is turning into a giant, left-handed Andy Delmore- someone who is useful on a powerplay, but is a complete liability at even strength. Something needs to be done on his part, and fast.
- This dovetails into my final point, and that is a matter the matter of depth. With both Toews and Seabrook in the locker room during the waning minutes of the game, Quenneville shortened his bench considerably. Not just due to the injuries, but due to substandard play, particularly from the third defensive pairing, and the fourth line. As was just noted, Cam Barker simply cannot be out there with a game on the line, unless it's absolutely necessary. Additionally, as many of you have noted in the comments, this year's 4th line is a far cry from what was arguably the best 4th line in the league last year. Injuries are the culprit in that case, pressing skaters off the waiver wire (Radek Smolenenenananenak, Andrew Ebbett) into duty who frankly have not delivered the nastiness, speed, and relentlessness that Ben Eager and Adam Burish did, which allowed Q to roll all four lines, keeping his top players fresh, as well as creating offense from the 4th line. Tomas Kopecky has yet to provide anything of substance outside of his lone goal in Nashville, and if he ends up taking a trip on the Jack Skille Trail of Tears, that'd be just fine by me, perhaps in favor of Jake Dowell. We keep saying its early, but the Hawks' trumpeted depth is getting pushed right now, and if Toews and Seabrook miss time, and Bolland continues to fight back woes, its going to result in far more dire circumstances than the 11 out of 18 points we're seeing right now.