Last night’s road contest in Winnipeg started off well for the Hawks, but it didn’t last long, with the Jets racking up 5 goals in a miserable first period for Chicago.
The Hawks lines and pairings were:
The scoring opened at just :11 of the first period, with Brandon Saad ripping his 16th goal past Conor Hellebuyck’s glove from the right circle.
But the good fortune would not last long.
At 3:43 of the first period, Saad was subsequently faked out of his jock by Patrik Laine, at the initiation of a rush up the ice. That turned into a strong, layered attack by the Jets and a tic toe passing play, finished by Paul Stastny on a shot that was stoppable by Anton Forsberg—the puck slipping through a soft spot in his pads
At 5:18, Stan Bowman’s latest greatest discovery, Erik Gustafsson, lost a puck battle in the corner to the much smaller, but actually trying Mathieu Perreault. Well, Perreault battled, Gustafsson sort of waved at the puck, which subsequently went out to the point, before being deflected in front of the net, and in, by Joel Armia. Bad luck for Forsberg, who was thoroughly let down by Gustafsson’s lack of effort.
Forsberg’s night would end early, after a third Winnipeg goal at 10:34 of the first period. Jet center Jack Roslovic basically outworked Artem Anisimov for a loose puck in the neutral zone, with a terrific one-man effort, and converted from the right circle over Forsberg’s left shoulder.
Forsberg out, JF Berube in.
But just over 8 minutes later, Berube gave up a stoppable goal from 40 feet out to Bryan Little, after the Hawks’ neutral zone coverage basically fell apart.
And just when you thought the Hawks night couldn’t get any worse—hey, guess what—it did. Less than one minute later, the Jets finished another crisp tic-tac-toe passing play, this time by Kyle Connor.
Saad, Gustafsson, Connor Murphy, David Kampf and Vince Hinostroza all finished -2 for the period. The Hawks gave up 5 goals on 12 shots. The defense was dreadful in all three zones.
Welcome to the Lawrence Funeral Home Second Period on Blackhawks Radio!
Like the first period, the Jonathan Toews line came out flying and generated a couple of nice chances. Play settled down for much of the period, with Berube seeming to find his game a bit, and making a couple of nice saves, the best of which came at 8:02.
At 4:24, just as the game began to reach a hypnotically boring state, Nick Schmaltz won a puck behind the net, and quickly kicked a pass to Patrick Sharp on the doorstep, and just like that, the Hawks had their second goal. 5-2. And that was how the period ended.
In the third, Berube was busy but effective, with the Jets putting 16 shots on net, versus the Hawks paltry 7. Only one Jet shot went into the Hawk net, off the blade of Connor, after Berube had been pulled for the extra attacker in a futile attempt to overcome a 5-2 deficit.
Final score 6-2.
Nick Schmaltz had a nice game, noticeable, good energy, with a nice assist and +1. Berube seemed to play better as the game went on. The Toews line was OK for stretches.
Goaltending. Some on the interwebz have theorized that the tandem of Berube and Forsberg is an ongoing audition for the backup goalie position next year. I concur. Could be. In Rockford.
The bottom line is this was a bad outing for Forsberg, especially the first goal he allowed, which kind of set the tone for a bad night. Berube came in and got lit up for two goals before settling in pretty nicely. But his last two outings were pretty much awful.
In truth, neither goalie is showing any kind of predictable game-to-game consistency. This morning, Berube has the upper hand. Forsberg did yesterday morning. It keeps going back and forth because neither guy is demonstrating that he can be “the” guy, should whoever the number one is next season go down for injury (as Corey Crawford has this year).
Individual effort—The Hawks were not only outskated, but outworked, much of the night, and especially in a dreadful first period. The lack of effort by Gustafsson on Winnipeg’s second goal was inexcusable.
Who else is ready for this awful season to end next month?
You keep looking for silver linings of hope for next year with this team. Some nights you see them—Hinostroza’s energy, Alex Debrincat’s quick hands, John Hayden’s physicality, even Brent Seabrook’s game has steadied out over the last 20 games or so. But other nights you get games like this one.
My personal belief (hope) is that GM Stan Bowman’s projection that next year’s team will look a lot like this one was just a smokescreen so he doesn’t appear desperate in offseason dealings. This is not a team in decline—it’s just a bad team.
Many hold out hope that Crawford’s projected return next year will turn things around, that goaltending alone is the problem. That is likely foolish. Crawford, at 34 and coming off over a half season lost to concussion symptoms, might—might— play 60 games and be the difference in winning ten more of them than a backup would. But that makes the Hawks basically a .500 team next year.
And one bump away from Exile to ForsbergBerubeLand.
In truth, the Hawks are a shell of what they were three seasons ago on their blueline—which is why they give up so many shots now, their structure up and down the ice so often falls apart, and the technical inconsistencies and fragile psyches of their young goalies gets exposed so regularly. For all the tire-pumping of Gustafsson, Jordan Oesterle and even Jan Rutta, this blueline is two aging stars in decline, an odd lot named Connor Murphy, who just doesn’t seem to click with this coaching staff, and a bunch of non-physical learners who make a lot of mistakes night in and night out.
Hawk fans, time to light some candles for the Hawks in the draft lottery—and hope that Bowman was just putting on a poker face with this comments about how next season’s team will look.
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