The Chicago Blackhawks had an up and down night on Wednesday when they battled the St. Louis Blues. On the positive side of the ledger, they knocked off the Blues by a score of 4-0 and secured two crucial points in the Central Division race. On the downside though, they lost Patrick Kane to a lower-body injury, possibly for the remainder of the regular season.
We’ll get to what this injury means for the Blackhawks later on, but for now, here were the Three Stars of the Hawks’ victory.
Third Star: Andrew Shaw
Shaw has made it a habit to commit silly penalties in the offensive zone in recent games, and Wednesday was no exception as he committed a tripping penalty near the halfway mark of the first period. Like in previous games though, Shaw did make up for his mistake in the later stages of the contest, picking up a goal and three shots on goal as the Blackhawks handed the Blues their first regulation loss against a Central Division opponent this season.
Shaw contributed more than just the goal however. With the Hawks on the power play near the end of the first period, Kane had the puck along the boards. Drawing a couple of defenders toward him, Kane broke toward the near face-off circle. Shaw took advantage of the seam that opened up and immediately got to the front of the net. While he was doing that, Kane passed the puck back to Duncan Keith at the point, and when Keith one-timed a slap shot toward the net, it was Shaw’s screen that prevented Ryan Miller from seeing the shot, and the Hawks took a 1-0 lead as a result.
Shaw made a nifty athletic play in the second period when he deflected in a Nick Leddy shot from the point to give the Hawks a two goal lead, but it was that ability to follow his instincts and get to the front of the net while Kane cleared a lane for Keith that really stood out in this one.
Second Star: Ben Smith
Over the past few games, Smith has gone from a mainstay on the team’s fourth line to a versatile player who has lined up in just about every situation imaginable. On Wednesday night, Smith continued his excellent play, picking up yet another goal and two blocked shots as he played for over 18 minutes in the contest.
Smith first grabbed the attention of fans at the United Center during the first period penalty kill when Shaw was in the box with a tripping minor. Smith and Michal Handzus took turns blocking shots, stealing passes, and firing them down the ice. Smith also was imperative in the closing seconds of that penalty kill as he grabbed the puck and protected it in the offensive zone to kill off more time and finish off the power play.
The goal that Smith scored was also impressive, but it was definitely a team effort. Leddy received a pass from Kris Versteeg out at the point, but his shot ended up going wide of the net. Fortunately for the Hawks, Versteeg was there to pick up the puck behind the net, and instead of skating it back around the boards, Versteeg quickly passed it back in front of the net, and Smith was lurking to pound home the rebound and make it a 4-0 game.
With Kane out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be even more crucial for Smith to pull out his bag of tricks on a nightly basis as Joel Quenneville mixes up his forward lines. If he can play the way he has in recent games, he should see some serious ice time.
First Star: Duncan Keith
Despite a 5-4-1 record since the Olympic break, the Blackhawks have been succeeding in a couple of key areas, and one of those is on the penalty kill. Keith is a big part of the reason why, and with a team-leading four blocked shots on Wednesday, it’s easy to see how.
In addition to his shot-blocking prowess, Keith also took some serious initiative on the offensive side of things in this game, picking up a goal and notching two shots on goal in just under 24 minutes of ice time in the game.
That goal was a thing of beauty, with Shaw getting to the front of the net and Kane working the puck along the boards and then back to Keith. The shot itself was perfectly timed as well, with Keith ripping the one-timer off before the St. Louis defense had a chance to react to the pass back to the point. It was fast, and more importantly, it was accurate, just beating Miller to the blocker side and sneaking past the left post for Keith’s fifth goal of the season and second in two games.
Keith always racks up a ton of shots on goal, but they aren’t always quality chances. Despite his usual emphasis on quantity over quality, that first period shot definitely fell into the latter category, and as a result Keith grabbed a huge goal that gave the Hawks some great momentum in the game.