Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hawk rookie forwards find scoring touch, but defensive lapses cost them, lose to Ottawa rookies 6-5

Game 2 of the 3 game rookie tournament in Oshawa this afternoon saw the hawks forwards get untracked offensively, but the defense was unable to stop Ottawa and the hawks dropped their 2nd game within 19 hours, in a wide-open affair.

There were 4 lineup changes for the hawks from last night. Scratched skaters were Philippe Paradis (with a suspected concussion suffered in last night's game), Chris DiDomenico (who scored the hawks' first goal vs. Toronto) and Dylan Olsen, replaced by Paul Zanette, and invitees Peter Leblanc and Neil Manning. Johan Mattson replaced Mac Carruther in goal.

The hawks again gave up the first goal, early in the first on a scramble in front, but they quickly got that one back, with Leblanc moving in from the left side fired a shot that beat Sens rookie goalie Matej Machovsky. Later in the first, the hawks got a powerplay, but some nonchalant play by the hawk defenseman Lavin retrieving the puck behind his own net & some aggressive fore-checking by Ottawa penalty killer Corey Cowick lead to a turnover, with the puck heading toward the crease. Hawk goalie Mattsson was slow in covering the left side of the net and as he slid over, he actually knocked the puck into his own net with his left leg pad, which made it 2-1 Ottawa.

Hawks quickly responded again on the same power-play, with Brandon Saad again connecting for his 2nd goal of the tourney (& 3rd point), standing just off to the right of the net and flipping in a rebound to make it 2-2, with Jimmy Hayes creating traffic in front & earning an assist on the pp goal.

Saad struck yet again late in the first, with his 3rd goal of the tourney, to put the hawks up 3-2 at the end of the first, outshooting the Sens rookies 17-12.

Ottawa came out flying in the 2nd, and with the help of a couple of power play opportunities, seemed to wear down the hawks and converted on one of their chances, with Sens Dman Stephane DaCosta scoring the natural hat trick - the 2nd with a blast from the point that beat Mattson high stick side on the powerplay to make it 4-3, and followed that up shortly afterwards with another slapper this time low stick side, where Mattsson was apparently screened, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration as Ottawa took a 5-3 lead.

Hawks managed to get a late powerplay of their own in the period, and this time it was Jimmy Hayes making a nice move from close in, lifting a backhander past Machovsky to pull the hawks within 1, at 5-4. Saad picked up another assist on the play, giving him 3 points on the game, and 5 in 5 periods. He should have had yet another assist when he made a beautiful cross-ice pass to a hawk all alone in front, who simply missed getting his stick on it to steer it into a yawning cage.

The third period saw the checking get tighter, as both teams tried to clamp down on the scoring chances that were abundant in the first two periods. Both teams nevertheless managed to hit iron, and late in the third, the Sens struck again, hemming the hawks in their own zone and seemingly putting the game out of reach.

But less than a minute later, Jimmy "Purple" Hayes found himself high in the slot with the puck, and after taking a quick look, fired a wrister that beat Machovsky for his second of the game, making it 6-5. The Hawks then pressed again in the Ottawa zone, but lost control of the puck and Phillip Danault attempting to swipe it away from a Sens player, caught his skates with his stick, knocking him down & was assessed a minor for tripping with a minute left.

Ottawa closed out the game by keeping the puck in the hawk zone to kill off the clock.

Danault had left the game in the 2nd period after taking a stick in the mouth, apparently from his own player as no penalty was called on the play. It appeared that Danault lost some teeth on the play, with blood dripping on the ice. After a minute, he got up & skated off, with Joe Lavin appearing to retrieve a lost chicklet from the ice and following them to the bench to give it to the trainer. Danault missed the rest of the second for repairs, but returned to start the third. (His parents were sitting behind me & his father indicated it wasn't the first tooth he has lost lol).

Observations on the game.

This was a more wide open game than last night - more emphasis on skating and not nearly as physical, which probably suited both teams more. The Sens have some excellent rookies as evidenced by winning the AHL Calder Cup championship last year and shutting out the Pens rookies 4-0 yesterday afternoon.

Brandon Saad continues to be the story of the tourney for the hawks - another excellent offensive performance - he was a threat every time he was on the ice, and produced whoever his linemates were. Hawks coaches continued juggling their lines throughout the game, giving different guys opportunities to play with Saad & Hayes.

Jimmy Hayes is going to be a very productive NHL forward - Great size at 6'5, but he can skate (not quite Viktor Stalberg speed, but very quick acceleration) and he has fantastic hands that he showed again today. How Burke could have given up on this guy is baffling, tho I suspect that Hayes doesn't play it rough & tough enough for Burke. I would like to see him use his size more & be more physical throwing his weight around out there to create more space (and if he did, he would be a dominating player), but it doesn't seem to be his game - tho I doubt he is a pushover - he doesn't go looking for trouble, but doesn't appear to be afraid to stand up for himself or teammates either.

Danault had another solid performance - he's played better than MacNeil, who seems to be having some trouble adjusting (or perhaps he was overrated?). MacNeil made at least 3 blind passes that were all picked off and was not an offensive threat, while Danault seemed to have a nose for the puck and the areas to be in offensively. His skating seemed more effortless than MacNeil and he seemed more determined in his play, looking more comfortable offensively. I don't have the plus minus stats & took more note of the the hawks offensive performance than who was responsible for the goals against, so perhaps MacNeil might have been better defensively of the two, but right now, I'd take Danault. That said, both guys are only 18 & I don't expect they'll be playing in Chicago for a couple of years.

Toews didn't seem to get as much ice time today - he didn't get on the scoresheet, but when he was out there, he went all out - just didn't get that much accomplished offensively.

Gilbert & Froese were more noticeable than last night, showing some flashes of ability, though can't say they made a big impact.

The two invitees in the lineup, Leblanc & Manning also put in fairly solid performances - with Leblanc scoring the first goal & Manning showing some good skating & mobility at the back end, tho didn't look that big.

Paul Zanette, also in his first game of the tourney, had some decent shifts, but had limited ice time and impact.

On defense, Joe Lavin looked fairly steady, tho he did have some lapses, particularly on the play that led to the shorthanded goal against. He's a decent skater & puck mover, and is a fairly aggressive defender (as all hawk defensemen appeared to be) in terms of challenging the puck carrier in the hawk zone.

Danis-Pepin may appear as a physically intimidating presence at 6'6, but as mentioned before, he's not overly physical and while a decent skater for his size, his puck handling needs some work - to me, he seems like an average 5'11 defenseman playing in a 6'6 body.

It was hard to pick out any stalwarts from among the hawk dmen - they seemed fairly interchangeable - though giving up six isn't going to help any of their causes.

Johan Mattsson looked shaky on a couple of goals, especially the own goal he knocked into his own net with his left leg pad when sliding across the crease, though he also made some nice saves on difficult chances, and picked up a delay of game penalty when he played the puck in the trapezoid area, tho seemed to dispute the call. He also seemed to show his frustration after the 5th goal, a low point shot by DaCosta which he apparently didn't see - something which I'm not sure his teammates or coaches would have been that impressed.

Overall, another entertaining game, well-played for the most part with some lapses by the defense & goaltending that ended up costing them.

The two guys that have really stood out so far have been Brandon Saad & Jimmy Hayes with an honorable mention to Phillip Danault. These are three guys to keep an eye on in the hawks regular camp.

In a nice gesture, there was a moment of silence prior to the US National Anthem in memory of the September 11th victims back in the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rookie Hawks can't hold on, drop 4-2 decision to rookie Leafs

Hockey is back & if the first game of the pre-season by the rookie Hawks & Leafs was any indication, the players are chomping at the bit for some meaningful action.

There were some big bodies in both lineups, the leafs featuring two forwards listed at 6'5, 200+, and another forward & 2 defensemen at 6'4, 200+. The hawks had their own 6'5, 200+ forward in Jimmy Hayes, and defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin at 6'6, 229.

In a spirited, well-played game, featuring 3 fights and some heavy hitting, the rookie hawks looked like the more poised team for stretches, but couldn't hold on to a 2-1 third period lead, eventually yielding 3 goals in the final 10 minutes.

Brandon Saad was the most dangerous looking hawk, making a beautiful pass to set up Chris DiDomenico in front in the 2nd period to tie the score at 1, then skated in on a 2 on 1, deking the goalie & flipping a deft backhand past Garret Sparks to put the hawks up 2-1 in the 3rd.

The hawks squandered 4 power play opportunities - they managed to control the puck in the offensive zone for the most part, but didn't get enough shots off, spending much of the time cycling & passing, looking to set up a teammate for a better chance that often never came. The penalty kill looked good, particularly early in the game, aggressively killing off the leafs powerplay which never really threatened. The Leafs had two power plays on the night.

The last hawk power play proved costly, as they failed to convert and at the end of it gave up possession at center, where the Leafs Kenny Ryan managed to elude a Hawk defenseman and fired a wrist shot from inside the circle that beat Mac Carruth high on the glove side, to tie the game at 2.

A few minutes later, leaf defenseman Jake Gardiner rushed up the ice and moved in on the right wing and from a similar position as Ryan, fired a wrister that beat Carruth high again, this time on the stick side. Carruth, who is 6'2 and takes up a lot of the net, went down early again, leaving the top of the net exposed & was unable to react quickly enough. He gets the benefit of the doubt on Ryan's goal, but not on the game winner - the 3rd leaf goal was all on him.

The hawks tried to mount a come back, but couldn't find an opening as the leafs did an effective job of collapsing defensively & clogging the front of the net. In the final minute, the hawks got caught in their own zone, with the leafs pressing, and Gardiner moved in from the blueline to finally convert from a scramble in front, beating Carruth for a 4th time.

Overall, both teams played well in an entertaining game. It was clear they were both anxious to get started and make a good impression on the coaches & brass in attendance.

Early in the first, after some scuffling in front of the hawk net, where the hawks picked up a minor penalty, 5'10 Andrew Shaw didn't back down from a challenge by 6'5 Jamie Devane. Shaw ended up taking the worst of it, absorbing several solid shots including a vicious uppercut, but didn't go down against the much bigger Devane, who later scored the game's first goal on a wraparound play from behind the net, midway through the first.

Rob Flick avenged Shaw's loss by pounding on a leaf rookie in a 2nd period fight, in a much fairer tilt in terms of size match-up. The towering 6'6 Simon Danis-Pepin finished the fight card for the night, with a heavyweight tilt versus 6'4 Dave Cowan with both players landing some good punches and then apparently agreeing to call it off before the linesmen stepped in.

Some observations on some of the notable hawk rookies and others who stood out to me.

1st round picks Mark McNeil & Philip Danault didn't look out of place, though they appeared smallish compared to some of the guys they were up against. They are still only 18 (their birthdays are two days apart in February) so they have a lot of time to improve & perhaps get bigger. Danault's skating actually impressed me a bit more than McNeil's.

David Toews, even smaller than McNeil & Danault, but he didn't shy away from the tough areas, and showed some good hockey sense. He broke up a leafs chance on one play by coming back hard on the back-check, reminiscent of his older brother. I think he has a legit shot, perhaps as a 3rd/4th liner.

Jimmy Hayes - good skater for his large frame and has some nice hands - he controlled or came up with the puck in traffic a couple of times - the only thing I would have liked to have seen more from him is using (i.e. throwing) his body around to create some space for himself & his linemates.

Andrew Shaw - have to admire his courage standing in against a much bigger player & taking his lumps, in a fight I think the linesmen should have moved in earlier to stop, given the mismatch in size. I question how long he can last if he keeps that up tho.

Brandon Saad - looked dangerous whenever he had the puck, which was a fair amount. His line with DiDomenico & Danault were involved in both hawk goals & controlled the play for the most part when they were on the ice. One guy to keep an eye on.

Other forwards were ok - No one looked out of place or outmatched - and were noticeable at certain points. The coaches mixed the lines up at points throughout the game to get some offense going, but to not much avail. There were no "superstars" out there, but some solid players. Rensfeldt & Gilbert stood out for their size, but need to use it more. Phillipe Paradis left the game in the 1st after taking a crunching hit in the offensive zone, where his head appeared to be smashed against the end glass. He did not return.

On defense, I tried to keep an eye on Dylan Olsen, 1st round pick from 2009 - good size, decent puck handler, needs to shoot more from the point, especially on the pp (as do all hawk Dmen, rookies or otherwise). The one thing that concerns me is his skating - He seems ok once he gets up to speed, but he got caught flat-footed a couple of times when he was forced to turn around. I don't think that will cut it in the NHL.

Shawn Lalonde appeared to be a better skater than Olsen, but doesn't have the size or physicality - was on the point for the 1st pp unit, but didn't connect.

Stanton & Youds were solid, Stanton having good size, though perhaps not the offensive upside as Olsen perhaps. He did show some good sense moving in from the point to keep the puck in deep on one play, but need to see more of him (as with others) to get a better handle.

Simon Danis-Pepin - at 23, he was probably the oldest "rookie" out there - as tall as he is, he looks slender at 229 and too easy to knock off the puck as his center of gravity probably gives smaller guys leverage on him. He's not a bad skater, puck handling is questionable - he lost it in his skates at one point, tho recovered. Hawks could have drafted Tyler Myers but took Kyle Beach instead.

Goaltending - Carruth went the entire game (Leafs switched goalies halfway through) - he wasn't overly tested, except for the goals that beat him - he went down too early on at least the winner, and looked a bit slow on the wrap-around first leaf goal.

Overall, not a bad performance, especially considering these guys have had exactly one practice together. While they stood up to the physical challenges, it seemed there were only certain guys who were consistently looking to take the body & throw some big checks. I think the "senior" hawks need more of that and the rookies that show that will give themselves a better chance of making an impression with the big club's coaches.

Well see how they do tomorrow against Ottawa, which has some excellent rookie prospects in their system, with Binghamton winning the Calder Cup last year, plus several highpicks in 2011 draft. The rookie Sens beat the rookie Pens 4-0 earlier in the day.