Monday, December 21, 2009

Hawks clip broken Wings, 3-0, move into sole possession of 1st in the West.

The blackhawks took advantage of a Detroit team missing 9 regulars due to injury and went on to blank the red wings 3-0 with a solid, workman like performance for their 4th straight win at home, 3 of them shutouts, in front of the biggest crowd of the season at the UC. With the win, the hawks have now beaten every original 6 rival at home this season, something they last accomplished in 1991.

Detroit was missing Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary, Jason Williams, Valteri Filppula, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson & Andreas Lilja, all injured, several of them out longer term.

They also lost the likes of Hossa, Hudler, Samuelson, Kopecky, Chelios & Ty Conklin in the off-season to UFA, so their experience and depth isn't nearly what it was & thus it isn't surprising that Detroit is struggling simply to get & stay in the top 8 in the Western Conference this season.

And to top it off, Detroit played yesterday in Dallas & had to travel, while the hawks were resting up waiting for them in Chicago, so there was an expectation that the hawks had the clear upper hand against their original six rival heading into tonight's game, even though they were missing Barker & Eager who were originally hurt in the St. Louis game. Nik Hjalmarsson returned after missing the Boston game, while Jordan Hendry suited up for Barker and Bryan Bickell was called up again to replace Eager.

The hawks showed a lot of jump early, going on the attack with Sopel drawing a hooking minor on Maltby just over 3 minutes in, but the hawks were unable to capitalize (Detroit had killed 36 of their last 37 penalties) and just before the penalty expired, Patrick Kane took a tripping minor that nullified the remainder of the powerplay & gave Detroit one.

The wings were unable to generate much on their own pp and like the hawks, ended up taking a penalty to nullify their man advantage, with Bertuzzi caught holding Toews.

The hawks had the better of the 4 on 4, with Campbell getting two good chances, the first set up by Sharp as the hawk dman moved in off his point position for a point blank shot and moments later Versteeg cut into the slot before passing to Campbell at the left side of the wing goal.

A minute after Kane's penalty expired, the hawks struck, with Versteeg moving in to the zone down the right side & taking a pass from Toews, but missing the net on a snap shot from the top of the right circle. The puck went back to Toews along the left boards and he sent it back to Keith at the left point. Keith "walked the line" to the middle of the ice & fired a shot that appeared to deflect off a Detroit defenseman's stick and over Osgood's glove and the hawks powerplay had them up 1-0 early in the first.

The hawks continued to go to the attack, having a 7-0 shot advantage over half way through the first. The Wings finally got their first shot on goal over 13 minutes in, and tested Huet late in the 1st when Leino cut in on a partial break, forcing Huet into making a good glove save while doing the splits.

The hawks seemed to take their foot off the gas in the last 5 minutes of the 1st, as Detroit put together a couple of good shifts in the hawks zone, with the hawks blocking 5 shots while Huet stopped 4 others, including Leino's chance.

The second period started much like the first, with the hawks jumping on the wings - Kane stealing the puck at center and moving into the zone, using the "Savardian spin-o-rama" at top speed to elude the dman in the circle and get a good scoring chance from in close, but his backhand missed the target just over a minute in.

Just over 6 minutes in, the wings were caught with too many men - the hawks powerplay controlled the play in the Detroit zone & created several good chances, but missed the target a couple of times. They continued to hem Detroit in their own zone after the penalty, forcing an icing call though the wings were eventually able to change with no damage done.

Perhaps the turning point of the game came a few minutes later, when Abdelkader attempted to throw a hit on Patrick Sharp behind the hawks net, but got the worst of it as Sharp braced for the hit & ended up shouldering Abdelkader to the ice. Abdelkader got up and went after Sharp again as the play headed to the corner, with Sharp again bracing for the hit and denying Abdelkader a big hit, though a scuffle ensued, with some minor pushing & shoving.

Ironically, Sharp was the only one called for a penalty, when it appeared that Abdelkader could have picked up an interference (and a roughing) penalty. Replays further revealed that Detroit actually had 6 skaters active on the ice during the Sharp Abdelkader exchanges, nevertheless it was the hawks who found themselves shorthanded with only a 1-0 lead.

The wings managed just 1 shot on goal during their pp, and after the penalty expired, Sharp went to work. After registering a shot on goal & a takeaway on returning to the ice from the penalty box, he threw a hit at center on his 2nd shift back, then shortly afterwards, led a rush from his own blue line down the left wing into the Detroit zone together with Ladd & Hossa, as Campbell jumped up as the trailer on the play. As Ladd drove to the net, he took a wing dman with him, with another wing defender taking Hossa on the right side and a 3rd defender taking Sharp, leaving the late incoming Campbell open & after taking Sharp's pass, #51 had a wide open lane to the net & skated into it deep in the left faceoff circle before firing a shot that beat Osgood between the legs and the hawks were up by 2-0.

After a couple of strong shifts by the 1st & 4th lines, where Bickell rang one off the post to the right of Osgood, the hawks had the clear momentum as the period wound down, and took command when Byfuglien later worked the give & go with Madden, taking a return feed at center and moving in over the blue line and beating Osgood on a 40 foot snap shot to make it 3-0. Babcock afterwards indicated the two late 2nd period goals effectively killed the wings' chances, sapping any energy they may have had. The hawks outshot Detroit 14 to 5 in the 2nd.

To start the 3rd, a minor scuffle erupted beteen Versteeg & Datsyuk at the players' benches, with both players assessed offsetting minor roughing penalties. It was apparent that Detroit wanted to step up their hitting, perhaps to send a message for the Wednesday rematch, as Stuart, Abdelkader & Meech all followed Datsyuk's lead, throwing hits on Sharp, Ladd & Madden. Shortly afterwards, Drew Miller got off a one-handed shot on goal on a rush where he partially eluded Seabrook but Huet made the save.

The physical play continued throughout the period, as Hjalmarsson caught the speedy Helm a bit off balance with a shoulder deep in the hawks' zone that sent Helm heavily into the boards. Later in the 3rd, Abdelkader caught Kane with a clean left shoulder as Kane was cutting across the slot, that sent the hawk forward flying - on the ensuing play, Toews nailed Abdelkader along the boards behind the net, with Abdelkader grabbing a hold of Toews, perhaps thinking the hawk captain wanted to challenge him for hitting Kane. Instead, Abdelkader was assessed a minor for holding, effectively killing two more minutes off the clock.

The hawks' Ladd & wings' Bertuzzi were each given misconducts late in the 3rd, as Bertuzzi looked to be trying to antagonize Sharp, who appeared to be a target of the wings all night. Ladd moved in to apparently come to his linemate's defense, and the next thing he knew, he, along with Bertuzzi, were heading for the showers.

Abdelkader continued to throw the body when he got out of the box, but that was the extent of Detroit's feeble response as the hawks skated off with the shutout win.

Without Zetterberg, the hawks not surprisingly dominated the face-off circle, winning over 64% of the draws and helping their puck possession game. While hard to accurately measure the hawks play given that Detroit was decimated with injuries, it is clear the hawks did what they had to do, not taking the wings lightly and got an important two points.

They finish off their 5 game homestand vs. San Jose on Tuesday before heading to Detroit to finish their pre-Christmas schedule.

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