The way it was supposed to go: The Blackhawks triumphantly return to the United Center after nearly three weeks away, Duncan Keith's bobblehead giveaway spurs him toward a spectacular performance, and Dave Bolland hits the ice a mere 11 weeks after back surgery and looks like he hasn't missed a beat, all while en route to Antti Niemi's fifth shutout and a throttling of the goon-laden Blues.
The way it went: Antti wakes up with the goop, an unprepared Cristobal Huet lays an egg, and the Hawks play an uninspired and disinterested second period en route to a 3-2 hard luck loss that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
It wasn't without its moments. Patrick Kane's breakaway goal in the first was quite pretty, created by a great shot block at the point by Troy Brouwer. Marian Hossa played an outstanding game, thoroughly outclassing the Blues defense and putting on a clinic. Hossa's goal in the third period was one of the highlights of the season, thanks to a masterful display by Jonathan Toews.
But Wednesday night's performance brings to light a disturbing trend: the bad period. The stat sheets will tell you that the Hawks don't often have bad games. The problem is that within the “good” games, often against poor opposition, they fall asleep for 20 minute stretches. Tonight's second frame was no exception. The game slowed almost to a halt, with numerous whistles and loose pucks in every direction, and the opportunities slowed down with them. This isn't the first time the bad period has struck either. Earlier this year they nearly coughed up a lead to the Maple Leafs at home, disappeared for 30 minutes in a home game vs. Anaheim, and we all know what happened in Minnesota.
On some nights they have the ability to recover from this, on others, it cripples them. Tonight, an exceptional third frame wasn't enough to balance out an apathetic three goal period (regardless of the soft nature of the second goal). This will be something to watch as the season goes forward.
Kudos to the St. Louis Blues as well, who came out and played the exact opposite type of game than everyone expected. Where the two earlier contests would've made the Charlestown Chiefs jealous, this game was controlled, well positioned, and remarkably clean by contrast. Sure, there were still a few cheap shots (I'm looking at you, Mr. Jackman), but by and large the Blues came out and played a very tight hockey game. T.J. Oshie in particular (those of you who know me know that I'm a big Oshie fan) was a terror at both ends of the ice defensively and on the forecheck. Chris Mason made numerous big saves as well.
Huet's performance was one of his worst of the season. He allowed three goals on 19 shots, and spent much of the night getting handcuffed by easy shots and looking visibly shaken and positionally unsound. He's gotten back into that bad habit of dropping too early and opening up that top shelf to shooters. One bright spot was a beautiful save midway through the third period, keeping the game within one.
Tonight also marked the return for Dave Bolland, after surgery to repair a herniated disc back in November. He received a nice ovation in the first when he hit the ice, but the love affair ended there. The vision is still there, and Bolland was often in the right place at the right time, but physically he isn't ready to play at full speed. That trademark quickness and tenacity just wasn't there tonight as it seemed like he reached every spot just a second too late. He's also clearly lost some strength due to all his down time. His shot lacked zip as well, and I think in general he would have benefited from another week of practice to get up to game speed. With so much of Bolly's game relying on his ability to get to the right places on the ice quickly and change direction on a dime, he was more of a liability tonight than anything else. Look for him to improve with more ice time and a good hard month of training during the olympic break to regain some of what he lost.
- Duncan Keith's bobbleheads were so popular that all 10,000 had been given away 20 minutes after the gates were opened. The first one appeared on ebay before the start of the game.
- Hossa's short-handed goal was his fourth, which ties him for the NHL lead with Vancouver's Alex Burrows.
- This is the first time the Blackhawks have lost consecutive games in regulation since October 21st, and just the second time all season.
- Joel Quenneville shortened the benches in the third period, with the fourth line being the primary casualty. John Madden only saw a few shifts in the final frame, and played only 12:38 for the game, well below his season average of 16 minutes.
- Ben Eager and Tomas Kopecky played fewer than 12 minutes combined. Expect Colin Fraser to return to the lineup on Friday.
About the Author
Written by Adam Seidman
Adam can be reached via email at email@example.com