Marcus Kruger (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
After blowing back to back leads in their past two games, the Chicago Blackhawks made Bryan Bickell’s first tally stand up, winning against the Nashville Predators 1-0 on Saturday afternoon in the Music City.
Ray Emery made 20 saves in his second shutout victory of the season, running his record to 13-1-0 on the year.
With more reaction, here are the three lessons that Hawks fans can take from this contest.
Could Marcus Kruger Replace Dave Bolland?
If there was a single player who defined this game more than any other for the Blackhawks, it would have to be Kruger. Before the game, he was bumped up to the second line to replace the injured Dave Bolland, and he delivered. Alongside Patrick Kane and Daniel Carcillo, Kruger was chippy, making hits and making some outstanding passes in this game.
One of those passes occurred in the first period, when he was checked along the boards by Hal Gill in front of the Hawks bench. While he was being taken out by the pinching defender, he found a streaking Michal Handzus with a perfect touch pass, and the resulting goal by Bickell on a 2-on-1 gave Kruger his ninth assist of the season.There’s no word yet on whether or not Bolland will be able to play in Sunday’s tilt at the United Center, but even if he can, head coach Joel Quenneville could be tempted to bump him down to the third or fourth line and have Kruger stay up with Kane.
If Patrick Sharp returns tomorrow, it would be even better, because then you’d have three guys capable of taking faceoffs on that line, so Kruger wouldn’t necessarily be as big a liability as he could be with two more conventional wingers.
Specials Teams a Positive….
Kruger was also stellar on the defensive side in the puck. He especially pitched in on the penalty kill, which played insanely well in the third period when Carcillo was sent off the ice for four minutes after high sticking Nashville defenseman Shea Weber. The Hawks stifled a lot of opportunities for the Predators, and Kruger was right in the thick of that battle.
Duncan Keith also had a good subtle play on that penalty kill, when Brent Seabrook failed to clear a puck from in front of the net. Keith stepped in and made a nice touch pass with the end of his stick blade to Marian Hossa, and the puck was sent in short order down the ice.
That penalty kill was a huge moment in the game for the Hawks, as it helped them to avoid giving up yet another third period lead against Nashville.
And a Negative
The Blackhawks have been struggling mightily on the power play as of late, with their success rate dropping to a point that they now sit in the bottom half of the league in that category. On Saturday afternoon, the Hawks once again struggled, only getting one man-advantage opportunity and failing to capitalize on it.
For all intents and purposes, it doesn’t seem like this team has found the proper formulation for their power play unit. Their puck cycling often looks disjointed, and even with Hossa back in the lineup, that hasn’t improved. They are victimized all too easily by a team that aggressively attacks their puck carriers, and until they can figure out lines that can effectively move the puck and get quality shots, their struggles will continue.