Sunday night’s game at the United Center featured an Original Six matchup between the young and (perhaps) ascendant Toronto Maple Leafs and the declining/rebuilding (you might say “schizophrenic”) Chicago Blackhawks.
To be fair (and honest), the Hawks are coming off a couple of their stronger outings this season. Last night in Pittsburgh, Chicago gave a fairly solid effort, but in the end hung Corey Crawford out to dry one time too many, blowing a lead then falling and losing the second point in the Gary Bettman Marketing Gimmick known as “the shootout.”
The game may also go down in history for NBCSN color man Ed Olczyk’s summarization of the talents of Erik Gustafsson: “his strength is not defense.”
Robin Lehner would take the net for Chicago Sunday night for the first time in 3 games, 190 feet from ex-Winnipeg Jet Michael “Don’t Call Me Hutchence” Hutchinson for Toronto.
The Hawks’ lines and pairings were:
Call it old time hockey or Meatball Stuff, but :32 in to the game, Jonathan Toews did what an NHL captain does, by going hard after Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin who had taken a big time run at a defenseless Brandon Saad, dropping Saad hard to the ice behind the Toronto net. The refs stepped in quickly and Muzzin took a two-minute minor, with Toews getting an extra two minutes, resulting in a Toronto power play, which the Hawks successfully killed.
At 5:18, Patrick Kane capitalized on an odd bounce and Cody Ceci involuntary redirect to put the Hawks out in front 1-0. Alex DeBrincat got the assist.
The action was fairly fast and furious throughout the first 11-12 minutes or so, with Dominik Kubalik just missing an opportunity to put the Hawks up 2-0, when he hit a post on a wide open side of the net.
At 12:00 in, Calvin DeHaan corraled a Muzzin turnover and blasted it off Hutchinson’s pads. Kirby Dach swooped in on the fat rebound and did not miss. 2-0 Chicago.
Just ten—ten—seconds later, with the Leafs in full disarray, Kane stepped out between the circles and delivered arguably the league’s best backhand into the top of the Leaf net. 3-0 Hawks.
The Leafs started coming on around the 15 minute mark but Lehner delivered some big saves to protect the Hawk lead. Former Hawk property Justin Holl took a badly called penalty at about the 17 minute mark, which the refs then, in classic NHL fashion, immediately “made good” with a slashing call on Dylan Strome. Three seconds later, Auston Matthews won a draw clean to William Nylander who beat Lehner. 3-1 Chicago.
Muzzin then took a tripping penalty at 17:17, giving the Hawks a 4-on-3. Sure enough, Toews immediately capitalized on a tic tac toe passing play. 4-1 Chicago at 17:28 and that was how the period would end—leaving NBCSN viewers to wonder just how “Gizmo” would break this one down between periods. Shots were 15-12 Toronto.
This period was a bit more tightly checked but about 6-7 minutes in, the Hawks started getting a little sloppy wth the puck, leading to turnovers and prime scoring chances for Toronto. Fortunately, Lehner repeatedly rose to the challenge.
Morgan Reilly took a hooking penalty at 8:01, putting Chicago back on the man advantage, which the Leafs easily killed. Ceci then took a hooking penalty at 13:08. This also was killed off by Toronto, although the Hawks launched several shots on goal on this power play.
Strome took another penalty at 17:05, and Toronto quickly won a face-off and set up shop. But the Hawks did their job and eventually killed it off. The period ended scoreless. Shots were 16-15 for Toronto.
A weak Erik Gustafsson turnover along the wall led to another William Nylander tally for the Leafs at 2:27. 4-2 Chicago
Alex Nylander took a high-sticking penalty at 3:55, giving Toronto even more life. However, Auston Matthews evened it out by high-sticking Calvin deHaan a minute later.
Toronto continued to keep pressure on Lehner (which he was more than up to), surpassing 40 shots midway through the third.
Gustafsson took a penalty at 12:37, leading, sure enough, to the Leafs third goal that appeared to injure Lehner in the collarbone or neck area. Lehner remained in the game, which was a good thing because it appeared the Hawks would need him with just a 4-3 lead.
However, after the Hawks converged on a loose puck in front of a down and out Lehner, Toews and Saad combined on a high speed goal, putting Chicago ahead 5-3 at 16:26.
Toronto then pulled Hutchinson, followed by a Zack Smith hooking call at 18:23. Lehner continued to stand tall under withering pressure, until Andreas Jonsson broke the spell at 19:18. 5-4 Chicago. The Hawks withstood the Leafs attack over the remaining seconds, sealing the win.
Kane (2G) and the Kane/Strome/DeBrincat line. Dach, Toews, Saad, Lehner (especially) and Calvin deHaan all had nice games.
The Hawks continue an ongoing theme of poor puck management that they have gotten away with of late due to superior goaltending.
57 Toronto shots on goal. Consider also that the Hawks are getting excellent play from deHaan and solid play from Olli Maatta. You want 2 “forwards” in your six-man defense rotation because . . . “pointz?” Careful what you wish for.
All we have on this one. Please comment below.