Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford makes a save during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
The Chicago Blackhawks have now picked up at least a point in all five games of their current road trip, but there hasn’t been a more complete effort in the bunch than their 2-0 white wash of the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night.
We’ll have more on what this road trip has meant to the Hawks later today, but for now, here are the Three Stars of the game for Chicago.
Third Star: Nick Leddy
If a Hawks fan missed last night’s game and just checked out the box score, they wouldn’t be overly impressed with Leddy’s numbers, as he only had two shots on goal and two hits in 15:31 of ice time in the game.
If that fan watched a replay of the contest though, they’d be thoroughly pleased with the way Leddy played in the game. He was aggressive on defense, assertive on offense, and had what could be argued was his best game of the season in a contest that the Hawks desperately needed him to succeed in.
There was one sequence of plays that was especially noteworthy. On the defensive end of the ice, Leddy chased down a Ducks’ puck carrier, stripped the puck, and eventually started a 2-on-1 rush by Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane that the latter forward nearly scored on. After that play, the puck came back down the ice on another Ducks rush, but this time Leddy was able to force the play wide of the net with some great defensive positioning, and the Ducks weren’t able to get off a quality scoring chance.
Add to that the deft move that Leddy pulled against Matt Beleskey (leaning into the forward, then jumping off at the last instant as Beleskey bowled over Corey Crawford in the crease to draw a penalty), and you can see that he is playing with a lot more confidence and effectiveness for the Hawks as this road trip continues.
Second Star: Marian Hossa
Normally, figuring in both goals in a shutout victory would be worthy of a First Star slot, but a couple of puck-handling miscues (including one that nearly led to a Daniel Winnik short-handed goal in the third period) resign Hossa to the second spot for this one.
Even still, Hossa once again looked fresh after not having participated in the morning skate prior to the game. His first period goal was a thing of beauty, as he stole the puck in the defensive zone and pushed it up to Michal Rozsival. Eventually, Patrick Sharp got the puck along the boards, and as Jonathan Toews crashed the net to clear a Ducks defender out of the middle of the ice, Hossa knifed through the Ducks’ defense, skated straight across the crease and decked Jonas Hiller out of his pads before flipping the puck into the net to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
On Toews’ third period goal, Hossa also figured prominently. On the play, Cam Fowler was attempting to exit the zone with the puck, but Hossa had other ideas as he executed a gorgeous back-check and stripped the puck away from him. Hossa quickly found Toews with a pass, and that was all she wrote as the Hawks picked up a critical insurance goal.
Hossa has had some noticeable jump in his step in the past few games as he has sat out all of the Blackhawks’ practices and morning skates, and he seems to be quite content with the way things are going. If he can continue to contribute on both ends of the ice, then head coach Joel Quenneville may have found the perfect way to handle his veteran star's ice time.
First Star: Corey Crawford
Crawford has really come into his own over the past few games, and he might be the one Blackhawk who isn’t excited by the upcoming Olympic break.
On Wednesday night, Crawford was in top form, stopping all 29 Anaheim shots en route to his first shutout of the season, and the first that the Blackhawks have gotten against the Ducks since they were still known as the Mighty Ducks way back in 1999.
Crawford was at his best during the first period as the Ducks picked up a couple of power plays, including a five-on-three advantage. Despite a good deal of traffic in front of his crease, Crawford made several effortless saves, kicking from post to post and centering up shooters all over the ice. He was able to track the puck smoothly, and his confidence was apparent as he fended off all comers on that sequence.
Crawford also had a good penalty kill late in the second period despite making an early miscue when he failed to clear the zone and whiffed on the puck. The play eventually worked itself back out to the point, and when Ryan Getzlaf blasted a shot towards the net, Corey Perry was parked in front and provided a jumping screen in front of Crawford. Somehow, the Hawks’ goaltender not only stopped the puck, but he also absorbed it and didn’t allow an easy rebound for Perry to swipe at.
That, perhaps more so than anything else, was what was so impressive about Crawford in this game. No matter what kind of traffic or shot he was facing, Crawford was able to absorb a good number of shots, and even those he couldn’t, he directed away from Ducks skaters to prevent easy second chance opportunities.
When Crawford is at his best, he is one of the most technically sound goaltenders in the game, and he really displayed that in this game.