After facing the top 3 defensive teams in the league consecutively in the Rangers, Kings, and then Blues, the Hawks tonight found themselves at the mercy of the schedule makers again, traveling to Dallas to face the Stars. who had only suffered their first regulation loss in 12 games Wednesday night at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets. Not to mention that 364 days ago, the Hawks squeezed out one of the more revolting turds of the 2010-2011 season in Dallas, suffering a 5-0 defeat in a game they absolutely had to have. And oh yeah, Jonathan Toews still isn't playing.
Fortunately, things got started right off the bat, as the Hawks counter-punched beautifully against a very, very aggressive Dallas neutral zone forecheck, where Andrew Shaw batted a lobbed puck out of mid air just inside the blue line, and served it right up with a drop pass for Dave Bolland, who picked his corner and gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead a mere 10 seconds in. Learning their lesson from the last game with the Blues, the Hawks continued to attack, and 90 seconds later, Patrick Sharp wheeled out of the corner to the dot on his forehand, and ripped a shot to the far side to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead before the clock even had clicked off two minutes. Things settled down a bit there in the first, with teams trading a fair amount of chances, though the Hawks were able to steer a fair amount of those off target with bodies and sticks in lanes, making Corey Crawford only make 5 saves in the first, and taking a two goal lead into the second.
The early part of the frame was more of the same from either side, but the Dallas surge came midway through the period, where the Stars' ferocious forecheck hemmed Niklas Hjalmarsson and Dylan Olsen for extended periods of time, and a spastic, flailing Crawford was somehow able to be up to the task, keeping the Hawks ahead when the game was still in question, especially after what transpired the last time these two got together on West Madison.
The final frame looked like a remixed version of the first, with the Hawks pouncing on neutral ice turnovers and once again capitalizing early in the period, this time with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp again connecting past Kari Lehtonen, giving the Hawks a comfortable 4-0 cushion to work with. Jamie Benn's goal would serve as the proverbial turd in the punchbowl for those clamoring for the Hawks to get their first shutout of the season with 10 games to go, but a decisive 4-1 victory should be enough to satiate that. Friday night bullets, right here for you.
- Don't look now, but the Hawks' last 3 victories have come against division winners, and have taken 7 of 8 points from four of the best goalies in the league, all without Toews. This team is reaching down and discovering a handful of rocks on themselves without having to lean on 19. If he ever sees straight, there's reason for optimism.
- Part of the reason that the Hawks have been so successful of late has been getting seriously smarter with the puck, both in their own end and in the neutral zone. Breakouts are getting progressively tighter, save for when 4 and 34 are out there, as they still resort to firing the puck up the boards with nary a look.
- Speaking of which, Johnny Oduya's game continues to impress. While it's still a small sample size, he's brought a lot of stability and efficiency to the second pair, which is making a marked difference.
- If indeed the Hawks do end up taking on the Stars in round one, one thing they'll want to take note of from tonight is where the goals scored on Lehtonen came from- all from the outside. It makes sense. Lehtonen is a strong, large man who's able to cover a lot of ground in close. If the Dallas forecheck is going to over pursue and leave shooting lanes open in transition, there are spots to be picked.
- Once again without Toews, the Hawks did not find themselves shorthanded at all during the contest. That's one way to ameliorate not having the best faceoff man in the league available for a penalty kill, where that's sorta crucial.
- Viktor Stalberg had 2 assists. But he only scores against Columbus.
- The power play is still fucking clown shoes, but hey, at least Patrick Sharp floated to the slot for like half a second and thought about getting a shot off when the puck got there. Also, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell on the power play units needs to stop.
- Mike Ribeiro wasn't much of a factor tonight, but that's not going to keep me from calling him a penis in this space, because I'll never pass up any opportunity to do so.
- As impressive as these wins over the heavyweights have been, had the Hawks not screwed the pooch against a few also-rans earlier (Hi, Edmonton), the points wouldn't matter as much right now with Toews out. It feels good, but with a floundering Capitals team meeting up for Sunday brunch at the UC, and another trip to Columbus in the offing, it'd be best not to let any kind of guard down.