Michal Handzus’ second period goal gave the Chicago Blackhawks the lead, and the defense and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made it stick as the Hawks picked up a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Friday night at the United Center.
Joakim Nordstrom scored his first career goal for the Hawks, and Jonathan Toews potted his second tally of the season as the Hawks erased the taste of Wednesday’s defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues from their mouths and improved to 2-1-1 on the season.
We’ll have more reaction to this game, as well as previews for the Hawks’ Saturday matchup with the Buffalo Sabres as the day wears on, but for now, here are Friday’s Three Stars:
Third Star: Jonathan Toews
It isn’t often that we knock a guy with a goal and seven shots on net in a game down to the Third Star slot, but despite that demotion, Toews definitely earned plenty of plaudits with his play on Friday night.
The Hawks’ captain was the ringleader once again for a first line that is really proving to be a matchup headache for whatever team the Hawks happen to be playing against. Both at even strength and on the power play, his pairing with Patrick Kane has proven very fruitful so far this season, and the goal he tallied was yet another example of that puck possession really paying off.
On the play, the puck was held in the zone for an extended period, and Brent Seabrook made a smart play and quickly cycled it over to Duncan Keith on the opposite wing. Seeing an open lane, Keith deliberately fired the shot wide of the net and the puck took a perfect carom right to Toews, who was already winding up as Keith took the shot, and Toews fired home the rebound to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead.
It was a great example not only of puck dominance, but also great chemistry with his teammates, and the Hawks are reaping the benefits of Toews coming out of the gates strong this season.
Second Star: Joakim Nordstrom
One of the things about the internet that are simultaneously awesome and terrible is the notion that everything a person writes enables people to hold that writer accountable if they are proven wrong.
While we still contend that Jeremy Morin could potentially be a guy who could make a difference on the Hawks’ third line down the road, Nordstrom definitely reverted back to his excellent preseason form in this game, and it was a sight to see.
His first period goal was a great example of what he brings to the team. On yet another extended possession for the Hawks that saw both Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson trade pinches in from the blue line, Nordstrom stealthily worked his way around the zone, and he drifted right to an open spot near the net and didn’t draw much attention from the Isles. That was bad for the visitors, as Hjalmarsson dropped a perfect pass through traffic right onto Nordstrom’s stick, and he fired it past Kevin Poulin to give himself his first career goal.
That play was an all-around showcase of Nordstrom’s skills. He won physical battles both in front of the net and along the boards, and showed great awareness in getting to the net as Hjalmarsson started in on a pinch. That kind of instinctual hockey is definitely a part of the reason that Joel Quenneville kept Nordstrom on the team, and if the Swedish rookie can continue to play like he did on Friday night, then we may have to issue some sort of retraction to our previous work.
First Star: Duncan Keith
One of the best things about having a deep and veteran laden team like the Hawks do is that you never know who is going to be the big offensive catalyst on a given night. On Friday, that man was Duncan Keith, and his performance on the night was nothing short of spectacular.
We already mentioned Keith’s excellent shot-pass to Toews off the end boards on the Hawks’ second tally of the night, so we’ll instead focus on Keith’s contribution to the third Hawks tally. On a play in the offensive zone, Ben Smith grabbed the puck after it had been cycled along the boards, and fed it to Keith at the point. Seeing traffic in front of Poulin’s cage, Keith quickly fired a shot before the Isles could get into defensive position, and a scrambling Poulin ended up coughing up a huge rebound in front.
Fortunately for the Hawks, Handzus was right there on the doorstep, and flipped in one of the easiest goals he will ever get to give the Hawks back the lead. It was a tremendous read by Keith, who ended up with four shots on goal and three more that missed the net (including the one that Toews hammered home) in the game.