The first two games of the anticipated clash between the Blackhawks and Blues have not gone the way the Blackhawks imagined. Two overtime losses have left a bitter taste in the Blackhawks mouth.
The Blackhawks will be without the services of Brent Seabrook for three games after his suspension for a hit that he delivered on David Backes. At this time, Backes has not been ruled out for Game 3 although his status will not be known until Monday morning at the earliest.
Plenty of frustration was evident among the Blackhawks both during and after Game 2. There is plenty to work on for the Blackhawks as the series shifts to the United Center for Games 3 and 4 beginning on Monday.
If the Blackhawks are going to come back they will need to protect late leads. One place to start is in goal as Corey Crawford has only been decent in this series. Crawford has faced 83 shots so far in the series and allowed 8 goals for a .904 save percentage. Give credit to Vladimir Tarasenko on the game tying goal in Game 2 but Crawford has to find a way to save the puck and the Blackhawks escape with the series tied. The game winner in overtime was brutal as the puck squirted through the legs of Crawford. The Blackhawks and Crawford know that he has to be better.
“I obviously have to find a way to make that save, and our guys need me to make a save at the end, too,” Crawford said after Game 2. “Really frustrating being up and losing the lead two games in a row in the last couple minutes. That’s pretty much not acceptable. We’re not going to win if I’m going to play like that. Just got to be better.”
“He said he needs to be better, and he needs to be better,” Quenneville said on Sunday.
But the blame just doesn’t go on Crawford. There is plenty of blame to go around. Of the six goals the Blackhawks have scored in this series, five have been scored by defensemen. And your leading scorer (Seabrook, 2 goals and 2 assists) is out for three games because of his stupidity.
Right now the only forward to score a goal is Patrick Kane who hasn’t looked like himself yet. It will take time but this is time that the Blackhawks don’t have right now. They need more contributions out of Kane, Jonathan Toews (2 assists), Marian Hossa (0 points, minus three) and Patrick Sharp (0 points, minus one). 3 points from your core four is not going to get it done if you are the Blackhawks. Hossa and Sharp have combined for 20 shots on goal in the two games so far. If the Blackhawks are to go far in the series, they need one or two of their stars to wake up starting on Monday for Game 3.
Two players who have played well are Brandon Saad and Kris Versteeg who have combined for 5 assists in two games. But there is not enough production out of the depth players. Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and the fourth line consisting of Marcus Kruger, Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith have scored zero points. That’s right the Blackhawks have been outplayed by the depth players of the Blues. Adam Cracknell has a goal as does Chris Porter.
The lack of scoring and production from both the stars and depth players is concerning. As is the discipline that was shown in Game 2 with the Blackhawks accruing 41 penalty minutes and being shorthanded 9 times. Perhaps the only positive so far is the penalty killing of the Blackhawks as they are 12 for 13 this series.
But the power play is its usual putrid self. The Blackhawks are 1 for 10 on the power play. A 0 for 6 performance in Game 1 helped cost the Blackhawks the game as well as a 1 for 4 performance in Game 2. With all of their star power, it’s always incomprehensible that the lack of production on the power play is a mystery. It’s another consistent on the team. The Blackhawks never have a plan on the power play and it shows as they struggle with entries and then don’t get shots through from the point. Or they’re too fancy and they don’t get a shot off. Either way, it’s usually two minutes of an easy penalty kill for the opposition.
Game 3 is going to be interesting as the events at the end of Game 2 will be on the mind of the Blues. They are going to want to punish the Blackhawks with their normal hitting. They have proven an ability to effectively hit the Blackhawks and not get penalized. That is not going to change as the Blues have the Blackhawks on the ropes. It is imperative that the Blackhawks not get sucked into the nonsense. Most likely the officials are going to call Game 3 tightly, that means the Blackhawks need to be ready for power plays. Any borderline hit is going to be called a penalty early in the game. Get on the power play and hit the Blues where it hurts. The Blues were successful with that approach at the end of Game 2 and there is no reason that it cannot work for the Blackhawks.
In order to get the Blackhawks offense going, I suspect that the Blackhawks will shuffle up the lines. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kane and Toews back with Bickell. I suspect that there will be the two stars, two stars alignment however Quenneville decides to line them up. A third line that might work would be Saad, Shaw and Versteeg which will bring speed and physical play. Another move that appears to be eminent would be Jeremy Morin inserted back into the lineup for Bollig who played 3 shifts and 1:23 after the first period. There is no need for Bollig, you need offense not an enforcer in this series. Morin scored 4 goals in 6 games in April and averaged a point per game.
If the Blackhawks are going to get back into the series, they need to hold serve on home ice. More is needed from everybody. The stars need to play like stars and Crawford needs to morph back into his playoff form from last year. An ability to make your opponent pay for their mistakes on the power play would be helpful. The Blackhawks are down by two but they are not out. In order to get back into the series, they will need all hands on deck.