Corey Crawford was up to the task tonight, but everyone else certainly wasn't, as the Blackhawks simply couldn't challenge well enough in a 4-0 loss to the Stars Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.
The Hawks came into this game looking forward to reuniting with old pals Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, and they also looked to gain a leg up in the standings on the league's leading team in points. They certainly accomplished the former objective. Chicago, who defeated the Sharks 4-3 in overtime Sunday, simply couldn't muster up enough consistency offensively in what may or may not have been an early season "statement game". Stars goaltender Antti Niemi was working on a back-to-back, and the Blackhawks didn't challenge him enough with prime scoring chances. The league's leading third period scoring in the Stars then scored three goals in the final frame to put this one on ice.
Andrew Shaw, playing on the top line for the second consecutive game as the Hawks are still without Marian Hossa, wasn't able to fill in admirably, as Chicago seemed to be missing an extra element to pot in more scoring opportunities against Dallas goaltending and defense that can be spotty to say the least. There also wasn't much of a rhythm to the game either as there was a noted good amount of whistles that wasn't limited to just penalties.
That translated to a largely uneventful first period where Chicago was only able to get three shots on goal while Dallas had just seven. The Hawks found themselves with two power plays in the opening frame, but were unable to generate anything offensively with just one shot on goal across both. Without any real flow moving forward, the only eventful play in the period was when Stars Vernon Fiddler found himself with a open net and shot blocker extraordinaire Niklas Hjalmarsson denied him.
Things opened up for the Hawks in the second as they started with a 7-0 shot advantage seven minutes in. However, Artemi Panarin then got caught up behind the net fighting for the puck holding Cody Eakin and all momentum was in turn squashed. Chicago played the ensuing power play mostly well but a touch pass to Jason Spezza from Sharp towards the end had Spezza beat Crawford on a one he would like to have back, making it 1-0. Patrick Kane then took another penalty hooking Eakin on a loose rebound, but the Hawks were able to kill it. With largely nothing really threatening the rest of the period, the onslaught was set on the table for Dallas in the third.
As mentioned, down only 1-0, the Hawks had a chance to make this a game, but 11 seconds into the closing period, Sharp struck yet again with a beautiful goal that you know he enjoyed to make it 2-0. Roughly three minutes later, with the Hawks still getting nothing going on offense, Colton Sceviour tipped one in off of a shot from Jordie Benn, and the rout was on making it 3-0. To add icing on the cake, Mattias Janmark would bank one in off of Michal Roszival's skate to bring it to 4-0 Dallas and add the cherry on top. The Stars now lead the league in third period goals with 51.
The Blackhawks were only able to create 20 shots on goal against Niemi and were largely sloppy most of the night, not even able to complete crisp passes out of their own zone on a consistent basis. That became the story of the game.
One Two Tree Thoughts:
1. Phillip Danault puts on a clinic
The rookie AHL call-up was tasked with a tough assignment against the league's best line in Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Sharp. One would think the rookie would be daunted by that assignment but he did very well as one of the few bright spots on the night for the Hawks. Seguin wouldn't register his first shot until about halfway through the second period and Jamie Benn only registered one scoring chance all night. In fact, Danault's fourth line held their own throughout, as the score by Patrick Sharp to open the floodgates in the third, happened with the Toews line on the ice. Danault himself showed a lot of instincts fighting in the corners and created plenty of skillful instinctive chances one wouldn't think a fourth line center could make. If this trend continues once Marcus Kruger returns, one might wonder where Danault slots in at that point, because he's certainly very versatile and capable.
2. Patrick Sharp gets his "revenge"
The long time Hawk now Star put on a show Tuesday night and despite any modest answers in the post game, you know he enjoyed sticking to it his former team in his very first matchup against them. With a beautiful goal to open the third period as well as a nice touch pass that Hawks fans have all become familiar with to Jason Spezza to create the first Dallas score, Sharp certainly had some fun. One might wonder how future match ups go with Sharp and the Stars, but for now the veteran, as well as the salary cap, have the leg up on the Hawks
3. Speedy teams proving to be achilles heel
Until the Blackhawks remedy the defensive issue by acquiring a competent #4 defenseman, this is largely what it's going to continue to look like against teams with speed and scoring talent across like Dallas. The Colorado Avalanche created the same kinds of issues for Chicago just last week, as has every other similar team, so this trend won't go away. If any of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, or Niklas Hjalmarsson don't have it on any given night, this team will continue to have serious problems. Trevor van Riemsdyk just isn't cutting it right now as he was railed in possession yet again tonight and quite obviously the Michal Roszival and Rob Scuderi pairing just isn't going to work long term. The Hawks next play a team with similar speed in guess who, the Colorado Avalanche, on New Year's Eve, so it'll be interesting to see if the defense comes undone yet again. Pending some kind of deal, I'm willing to bet it does.
With the 4-0 loss tonight, the Hawks fall back to 3rd in the Central Division just two points behind the St. Louis Blues.
Chicago now goes on the Christmas break until they host the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer and contributor for Second City Hockey and No Coast Bias. He is currently the sports editor at Aurora University. You can follow him on Twitter @ZigZags82.