The Blackhawks rebounded a bit this afternoon in Buffalo, after an embarrassingly bad outing in Winnipeg Thursday night. Yet, they couldn’t put 60 minutes of winning hockey together, and fell to the Sabres, 5-3.
The Hawks lines and pairings were:
The teams traded chances for much of the frame, with neither finding the net until late.
Buffalo finally broke a scoreless tie, with a Benoit Pouliot tally at 1:50. As a full play, the goal illustrated several ongoing issues with the Hawks of late.
First, David Kampf cleanly lost a defensive zone faceoff to Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly is an elite faceoff man, so you can’t be too hard on Kampf here. But the play also underscores the importance of defensive zone draws in terms of shot suppression and keeping pucks out of your net.
Prior to the faceoff in question, Buffalo had been maintaining long and dominant offensive zone pressure—as they did leading up to this score. And eventually, the Hawks lost their coverage responsibilities.
JF Berube was forced to make a fairly tough, post to post save—which made it hard for him to avoid giving up a fat rebound in front—that was buried by Pouliot. Still, Berube is a lot like former Hawk netminder Jocelyn Thibault—small, quick, athletic, and a bit of a rebound machine.
The Hawks outshot the home team 16-6 in this period.
At the end of a long 4-on-4, Chicago borrowed a page from the Sabres. Maintaining offensive zone pressure after a persistent forecheck, the Hawks spread the Sabres out through puck and player movement, and Patrick Kane found a pinching Jordan Oesterle on a bang-bang play right in front of Chad Johnson. 1-1 at 11:04.
But as is so often the case with this year’s Hawk club, almost immediately, another of GM Stan Bowman’s prized possessions, Tomas “6 Weeks” Jurco took a really stupid and lazy stick penalty in the Sabres’ zone, which led to a Sabres power play goal at 8:53. 2-1 Buffalo.
At 5:45, the worm turned for Good Old 6 Weeks—coming in on the right wing, he took a shot from the circle that rebounded off Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson’s pad, into the skates of Sabre defender Rasmus Ristolainen, and back into the Sabres’ net. 2-2. That was how the period ended.
The Hawks continued to capitalize on tenacious three-zone play, with Jonathan Toews batting in a rebound of his own shot, that began with a 2-1 initiated at center ice. 3-2 Chicago, just :20 in.
At 2:17 of the third, two Buffalo players got in front of Berube—and behind Connor Murphy and Jordan Oesterle (another ongoing problem)— with Nicolas Baptiste deflecting a shot past the Hawks netminder. 3-3.
With Brent Seabrook in the penalty box, a lost defensive zone faceoff (to O’Reilly, by Toews this time), led to Baptiste’s second goal, again after the Buffalo forward got immediately behind Connor Murphy and Oesterle for a high quality chance in close. 4-3 Buffalo with just over 2 minutes left in regulation.
With under a minute left and Berube pulled, Nick Schmaltz tried a dumb, overly cute stickhandling move just inside the Buffalo blueline, leading to an easy shot from center ice by Sam Reinhart, effectively ending the game at 5-3.
Overall, the team had a lot of jump and played better than it did on Thursday, versus Winnipeg. No one Hawk really seemed to stand out except perhaps Kane, whose effort has been consistent pretty much all season. His linemates, Brandon Saad and Toews, were also effective at times.
Don’t let Jurco’s “redeeming” goal fool you. It was flukish, and he remains a low- or negative-impact player.
Defensive zone coverage and one-on-one puck and positioning battles down low continue to be a challenge for Connor Murphy, Oesterle and Erik Gustafsson, generally. A good question for Joel Quennevile would be whether these players are actually being coached to not engage with opposing forwards going directly to the front of the Hawk net after winning a faceoff. If they are being instructed to recognize and then seal those players off, some rear ends should be stapled to the bench or on the next bus to Rockford. Because it is a rebound and deflection buffet for opponents, right in front of Berube or Anton Forsberg, every night.
Schmaltz’ play at the end of the game should be reserved for a scrimmage at Johnny’s Ice House, not in the last minute of a road game.
It’s unfortunate the Hawks had to fall apart at the end of this game, because there were some positives for the beleaguered team. While WGN announcers Pat Foley and Steve Konroyd lamented Brandon’ Saad’s recent scoring numbers, Saad was channeling his inner Marian Hossa most of the game and creating a lot of opportunities by defending aggressively up and down the ice. In fact, much of the team seemed to get that memo, leading to a 37-shot attack for the visitors.
The Achilles Heels of this team remain Keystone Kop defensive zone coverage, coupled with a lack of tenacity from Hawk defensemen, a lack of defensive zone faceoff wins (Toews and Artem Anisimov were 46% overall in the dot, David Kampf and Schmaltz, 33% and 18%—no, that’s not typo—respectively), and untimely penalties.
And it doesn’t get any easier tomorrow, when the Blues come calling at the UC. We’ll have a preview in the AM.
Until then, share your joy below.