The Chicago Blackhawks have played exactly 25% of their regular season games and still have yet to lose a game in regulation. The theme so far of this shortened season is exorcising the demons of past failures. The Hawks have vanquished the bad memories of Mike Smith and Raffi Torres. In Calgary, Ray Emery got the Hawks over the shootout hump. And last night Corey Crawford finally picked up the elusive shutout, the team's first since 3/23/11.
Remember towards the end of last season when nobody wanted to play the Nashville Predators in the playoffs? They were too big and scary and would crush our Blackhawks. That team no longer exists. Those were not the Nashville Predators we have seen the last couple of seasons. Where was the defensive pressure we have been used to seeing from them? This team is going to be in trouble if they don't find any offense this year. Except for a brief moment here and there, the Predators were never a threat to score last night.
For the second straight game the Blackhawks dominated the play from the opening puck drop. Jonathan Toews looked like he was going to give the Hawks an early lead with a breakaway chance in the 1st period but the puck slipped off his stick at the last second. The opening period ended in a scoreless tie but the Hawks held a 10-3 advantage in shots on goal.
The Blackhaws got on the board when Marcus Kruger sniped a wicked wrist shot past Pekka Rinne at 6:14 of the 2nd period. Nashville defenseman Roman Josi tried to kick the puck out of his zone but instead it landed right on the stick of Kruger. Another theme of the season so far is stringing goals together rather quickly. This trend continued just 66 seconds after Kruger's goal. At 7:20, Duncan Keith flung a backhand shot towards the net and Jonathan Toews was in the right place at the right time. While Toews was streaking towards the net, Keith's shot hit him and bounced past Rinne for a 2-0 Chicago lead. Marian Hossa was given credit for the secondary assist on Toews' 6th goal of the year. The Preds were held to only 4 shots in the 2nd period and only had 7 through the first 40 minutes of play.
The third period was much of the same as the Hawks dominated the play and the Preds did not have much to counter with. Patrick Kane continued his hot streak with his reenactment of his 2010 Stanley Cup winning goal. Kane took a snap shot, when he had no other options, from the bottom of the left hand circle. He must have surprised Rinne because it looked as if he had no idea the puck was coming. Dave Bolland and Michal Rozsival picked up assists on Kane's 9th goal of the year. Nashville did put a bit of a fight in the last half of the period. They were able to put up 10 shots on goal but Corey Crawford was able to turn them all away.
* Corey Crawford continues to silence his critics with his excellent play this year. We all know the running jokes about shutouts so thank God those will all be coming to end now. Although he didn't get challenged much he did stand tall when needed. Right after the Hawks grabbed a 2-0 lead the Preds were able to sustain a bit of pressure but Crawford was able to make big saves on Paul Gaustad and Colin Wilson. The save of the night came in the 3rd period when Crow used his pad to rob Mike Fisher of a goal and preserve the shutout.
*Andrew Shaw and Rich Clune might found a way to get to the Sochi Olympics after all. Neither will make the Canadian hockey team but they have a future as an ice dancing pair. Those were some fancy moves they showed during their "fight."
* While Shaw was in the box for his fighting major, the Blackhawks drew a hooking penalty on Sergei Kostitsyn. Q used Bryan Bickell to fill Shaw's spot on the top line. I think is something that could actually work if Bickell is willing to get to the dirty areas and take some punishment in front of the net. He is a much bigger body than Shaw and could create some havoc if he chooses to do so.
*Johnny Oduya probably had his worst game as a Blackhawk last night. He was a turnover machine and just didn't seem like his normal reliable self. Let's hope this doesn't become a thing.
* The Hawks were having all kinds of trouble getting the puck out of their own zone at the beginning of the game. To their credit, this was not a problem that lasted too long. For the majority of the game the Hawks did a terrific job of limiting Nashville's time in their zone.
*Brandon Saad continues to get better and better with every game. He continues to use his size and speed to his advantage and to draw penalties. His confidence continues to grow as well. He lead the team in shots with 4. He has not given Q any reason to take him off the first line once Daniel Carcillo returns from his knee injury in a couple of weeks.
*The Blackhawks are 10-0-2 and play 22 of their 36 remaining games at home. Good times indeed!
The Blackhawks finally return to the Untied Center tomorrow night with the surprising Anaheim Ducks coming to town. It is going to be blast getting back to the Madhouse. Hopefully there will not be any let down.