Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hawks drop season opener in Dallas, 2-1

In the much anticipated season opener, the hawks worked hard, created chances and also looked a bit rusty and disjointed at times in losing 2-1 to the Stars.

Goaltending was the story of the game, as you would expect with over 70 total shots and only a 2-1 scoreline. Corey Crawford played well, certainly well enough to win most nights, but Kari Lehtonen was a bit better, stopping the hawks first 37 shots before losing his shutout with 13 seconds left.

While Lehtonen was solid, he was also helped by hawks forwards' reluctance to drive hard to the net and subject themselves to some physical abuse & punishment from Stars defensemen. Too often, the hawks were content to stay well away from the top of Lehtonen's crease, even on the power play, and take shots from the perimeter, that were often right into the body of Lehtonen, not really testing him.

There was not enough physical initiation & engagement from the hawks to finish off their scoring chances - it was like they were prepared to go the distance, but not the extra mile to the score the dirty, ugly goal that is often the only way to beat a fundamentally sound & seemingly unflappable goaltender who was gaining in confidence as the game went a long.

Meanwhile, the hawks were in a giving mood, Keith mishandling a puck at the point early in the first, which allowed an aggressive Jamie Benn a breakaway chance on Crawford, who made a nice blocker save going to his right. Less than a minute into the second, Keith tried to make a hard clear from behind his own net along the right side boards - unfortunately Hossa was for some reason at the blueline apparently covering Goligoski, while his vacated position along the right boards was filled by Mike Ribeiro who then fed Alex Goligoski stepping into the slot (now vacated by Hossa to go after Ribeiro on the right boards) and Goligoski fired a wrister past Crawford to the put the Stars up 1-0.

The Stars then got into some penalty trouble, taking 3 minors in the period (and fourth consecutive in the game to that point) and while the hawks did manage to get many of their 22 total shots in the 2nd on the powerplays, most were shot right at Lehtonen, making it easier for him. The hawks best chance was actually at 5 on 5, with Frolik (who replaced Saad on Toews' line to start the 2nd) being set up by a nice cross-ice pass by Sharp, giving him a partial open net to shoot at, yet Frolik missed the target altogether. Later Brandon Pirri was set up in the slot nicely by Bickell on a two on one, but the rookie fired it over the net.

On the Hawks 3rd powerplay of the period, Hossa behind the play was called for a retaliatory slash. Having had four straight powerplays, Hossa should have known that the refs might call a minor indiscretion, but nevertheless he took the hawks off the powerplay and unwittingly set up the Stars next goal. On the ensuing 4 on 4 faceoff in the hawks zone, Brandon Pirri lost the draw, with the puck going back to the point and Sheldon Souray blasted a hard shot that Crawford couldn't smother and Benn was left alone (by Hjalmarsson) in front to flip the rebound over him to put the Stars up 2-0, late in the 2nd.

Quenneville started the third period with more line juggling, putting Bickell with Toews & Sharp, and replacing Brunette with Frolik on Kane & Hossa's line, however it was Dallas that actually carried most of the early play.

Hawks defensive zone coverage was also lacking. Crawford dropped a knuckleball 40 foot shot from Ott and had to make a rebound save on his own defensemen Lepisto, who unintentionally backhanded a shot on net, before falling over backwards. On the ensuing play, Lepisto failed to cover Ott, who redirected a point shot forcing Crawford to make a difficult save. Benn then crunched Hjalmarsson against the corner glass, cracking it open and causing a brief delay. Fortunately Hjalmarsson didn't appear cut on the play.

Quenneville had seen enough, and put Kane back with Sharp & Toews, with Brunette joining Frolik & Hossa, and the hawks started to respond, by carrying the play again. In fact Brunette, Frolik & Hossa controlled play in the Dallas zone for a full minute halfway thru the 3rd, but failed to connect.

The next Sharp-Kane-Toews shift led to more offensive zone pressure, with Ott going after Sharp at the end of the shift, causing a scrum.

With about five minutes left, Keith took a heavy hit from Ott, then proceeded to put his hand around Ott and fell on top of him, drawing a holding penalty. The hawks managed to kill off the penalty without any damage, and in fact Mayers even managed to create an offensive chance for himself after blocking a pass at center and moving in on the left side, but Lehtonen managed to get his left arm on the rising shot and deflect it wide on a difficult save. At the end of the penalty kill, Sharp took a Toews zone clear at center ice and moved past Daley & in on Lehtonen but lost the puck on his backhand as he crashed into Lehtonen & the net.

Quenneville pulled Crawford with about 2:30 to go, but the hawks were unable to keep the puck in the offensive zone for long and spent most of the next minute or so desperately trying to keep the puck out of their empty net. The hawks did finally manage to keep some offensive zone pressure in the final minute, and after a couple of chances, Kane found Leddy moving in from the left point and he rifled a shot that beat Lehtonen high to the glove side with 13 seconds left.

The hawks managed to gain control & move into the Dallas zone off the ensuing center ice faceoff, but Hossa's blind back pass for Sharp missed the mark and went to center ice, effectively killing the clock.

Overall, the Hawks didn't play poorly, and perhaps against a lesser goalie, they may have scored more & won the game, but when expectations are high, and the opponent is considered a "lightweight", this was a disappointing way to start the season.

Observations on the new hawks:

Brandon Saad was not a factor in the limited time he saw - he did make a nice defensive play in the first to take the puck away from Michael Ryder in the hawk zone and skated it down into the Dallas zone, allowing the hawks to change, and later in the 2nd managed to get off a shot that seemed to catch Lehtonen off guard, but that was about it.

The other Brandon rookie, namely Pirri was more noticeable offensively, getting an excellent chance on a 2 on 1 feed from Bickell, but fired it wide. He picked up a secondary assist on the lone hawk goal, feeding Kane at the side boards. He also lost the face-off on the 4 on 4, that directly led to the 2nd Dallas goal.

Brunette - didn't get much accomplished with Kane & Hossa. Kane was his usual dangerous self throughout the game, while Hossa was his usual frustrating, underachieving self.

Mayers - created a good shorthanded chance for himself and also had a few words with Morrow earlier in the game when the Dallas captain went after a hawk Dman.

Montador - saw limited action under 10 minutes, including a shift at forward. Surprisingly, he also got a shift in the final minute.

Lepisto - less than 10 minutes on defense, paired with O'Donnell - looked a bit shaky at times, including backhanding a Crawford rebound right back at him.

O'Donnell - he is slow, but we knew that (& if you didn't before, you certainly saw it when a Dallas forward streaked past him early in the game). Still, he brought a physical presence, moving in to defend teammates in a scrum, which is a big reason he is on the team.

Olesz - hardly noticeable - I'm not sure why he is on the team, especially with his salary & cap hit. The hawks could use a 4th liner who has energy & makes an impact with his physicality - they certainly don't have it in this guy nor does he present any offensive challenges to opponents.

Other noteables, Bickell threw a couple of big hits and made a nice play to set up Pirri with limited ice time.

Toews - good effort, but a slow start to seasons from a production standpoint seems to be the norm for him.

Sharp - looked no worse for wear from his appendectomy - may have lacked on timing and endurance a bit.

Keith - looked more like last year's Keith than the Norris one...

Seabrook - seemed out of it at times. I have to wonder how the multiple concussions & hits to the head are affecting his game.

Leddy - perhaps the hawks best Dman on the night.

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