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Poor defensive effort causes Hawks to fall to Atlanta

Thrashers 3, Blackhawks 2

Saturday night's match-up between the Blackhawks and Thrashers at the United Center definitely looked good on paper for the 'Hawks. Atlanta came in with a 2-8-0 record on the year, scoring just 21 goals in 10 games, while allowing 43. Statistically, quite simply, they have been the worst team in the NHL so far.

However, despite the Blackhawks probably being a much more talented team all around, the Thrashers came into Chicago last night, and despite their terrible record, they were able to come out with a 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks. It was the 3rd loss in a row for the 'Hawks.

The 1st period wasn't a terrible one for the Hawks. Although they have been hampered by bad starts to games this year from time to time, they came out in this one and looked at least good enough to prevent themselves from falling behind quickly. However, the Thrashers would pick up the first goal of the game just over 10 minutes into the opening frame.

While on a 5-on-3 power play advantage, Atlanta was set up in the Blackhawks' zone, and the puck came to Ilya Kovalchuk at the point. Kovalchuk threw the puck on net, and Viktor Kozlov was camped just to the side of Blackhawks' goalie Patrick Lalime (giving Nikolai Khabibulin a night off). Kozlov was able to get a stick on Kovalchuk's shot and deflect it past Lalime, giving the Thrashers a 1-0 lead midway through the 1st.

The 1st period would end with Atlanta up by a score of 1-0.

In the 2nd, the Blackhawks were able to come up with the equalizer just about five minutes into the period. After getting a power play opportunity, the puck came to Jason Williams at the blue-line, and he slid it over to rookie Patrick Kane, who sent a nice wrist shot over the shoulder of Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg, tying the game up at 1-1.

The 2nd period ended with both teams deadlocked at 1-1 heading into the 3rd and final frame.

Unfortunately, the Thrashers would strike early in the 3rd period and never look back. Just under 4 minutes into the period, Kovalchuk somehow found a way to get behind the Blackhawks' defense and was sprung for a breakaway. He made no mistake and buried it past Lalime, putting Atlanta up 2-1 with about 16 minutes remaining in regulation play.

Just about four minutes later, the Thrashers were on the power play, and as the Hawks tried to clear the zone, Kovalchuk (of course) was at the blue-line and made a nice play to keep it in, sending it right in front of the net, where, for some reason, Viktor Kozlov was wide open, and was able to stuff it home, giving Atlanta a 3-1 lead with just over 12 minutes to go in the game.

The 'Hawks made a valiant effort towards the end of the game to try and tie it up. With just over a minute remaining and Lalime off to the bench for the extra attacker, the puck was in Atlanta's zone and it came to Jason Williams at the point, who let a long slap shot go that found it's way past Hedberg, cutting the lead down to 3-2. The goal wasn't the only interesting event that happened at that point.

After the Williams goal went in, Johan Hedberg threw one of the biggest hissyfits that I have ever seen from a hockey player. He threw off some of his equipment and started yelling at one of the officials. He had this to say to explain what triggered his frustration:

"I got furious that they didn’t call goaltender interference. If I’m playing in the crease and they hit me and it’s a goal, it’s goaltender interference. I think being a referee in the NHL is probably the hardest job in the world. I’m just asking for some kind of respect."

At that point, Hedberg was given a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the Blackhawks, with the goalie pulled, had a 6-on-4 advantage for the last minute, needing another goal to tie it up. Unfortunately, the 'Hawks really didn't even get a decent scoring chance in the final 60 seconds, and ultimately dropped this one.

It's very disappointing to lose to a team that has had a brutal start to the year and even has undergone a coaching change in the past week, with Bob Hartley being fired. The defense was simply poor all around tonight, because certain players simply aren't raising their level of play to where it needs to be.

Duncan Keith is still very shaky in his own zone, despite his speed, and his small size doesn't help him against physical forwards. Jim Vandermeer just fails to play with the intensity that he used to have, and is pretty much a shell of his former self. Brent Seabrook is capable of much better play in his own zone, as well. And Magnus Johansson? I'm trying to figure out how he is NHL material at this point.

Offensively, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are terrific players obviously, and it's incredible how good they already are at the ages of 19 and 18 respectively. However, they cannot carry the whole team on their backs, meaning the veterans need to step it up. Yanic Perreault, as good as he has been on faceoffs, has 0 goals in 9 games. Sergei Samsonov was a healthy scratch last night after 10 games without a goal.

Martin Lapointe, Rene Bourque, Kevyn Adams and Adam Burish are others who have yet to dent the net. These guys may not be top-line talent and are mostly relied on in 3rd/4th line roles, but they are all capable of putting the puck in the net at some point. If this team is going to be a playoff contender, they need to start doing that, immediately.

One of the things I will be doing in game recaps is awarding the "SCH Hawks Player Of The Game", given to the Blackhawk whose individual performance I feel was the best in the game.

And the first ever SCH award will be given to...(drum-roll please)

SCH Hawks Player Of The Game: Jason Williams. He picked up a goal and an assist and was one of the few Hawk forwards that was actually a factor in last night's game.