The Chicago Blackhawks picked up 10 of a possible 12 points on their circus trip last season, and they duplicated that feat on Saturday as they knocked off the Los Angeles Kings by a 4-1 margin at Staples Center.
We’ll have plenty of reaction to the team’s successes on this road trip in the coming days, but for now, we’ll focus on the evening’s Three Stars.
Third Star: Kris Versteeg
Versteeg has been playing his best hockey of the season since being teamed up with Patrick Kane and Brad Richards, and Saturday night added another impressive game to his resume. He ended up with two assists on the evening, and he also drew a third period penalty as he played 17:31 in the contest.
While Versteeg’s assists were both really good (his pass over to Michal Rozsival to set up the third goal of the game was a thing of beauty, and his work on beating Matt Greene to the puck behind the net to set up the second goal was equally impressive), his real contribution came throughout the game as the second line dominated possession. Time and again, the group would get the puck into the offensive zone, and they simply refused to relinquish it.
That dominance clearly flustered the Kings, and as a result the Hawks were able to come away with one of their most impressive victories of the season.
Second Star: Michal Rozsival
The Blackhawks are used to getting offensive contributions from their blue liners, but no one could have expected that the best offensive play of the evening would come from Michal Rozsival.
In the second period, the Blackhawks were leading the Kings 2-1, and they were looking to tack on an insurance goal. Kane brought the puck into the offensive zone to get a possession started, and he passed it back to Versteeg as the trailer.
What happened next was a moment of hockey brilliance, as Versteeg passed to Rozsival at the line. Seeing an open lane, Rozsival aggressively pinched in toward the net, which not only threw off the Los Angeles defenders, but also forced Jonathan Quick to come out to the top of the crease to defend the shot and cut off the shooting angle. Seeing this, Rozsival passed the puck over to a wide open Brad Richards, who tapped it into the empty net to make it a 3-1 game.
The play was an excellent one by Rozsival, and one that illustrates just how effective a well-timed pinch can be. Rozsival’s aggressive tactic forced the Kings into making several decisions defensively, and they were the wrong ones as Richards scored his goal.
First Star: Brad Richards
Richards got off to a slow start with the Blackhawks, but he’s been positively dominant lately, and that trend continued as he scored twice and racked up five shots on goal in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 victory.
Like in Versteeg’s case, Richards’ contribution to the victory was more than just the two goals that he scored. He was also a huge part of the team’s effort in terms of maintaining possession, making a couple of good plays at the blue line to keep pucks in the zone and also forechecking aggressively to keep the Kings from getting out in their transition game.
That, perhaps more than any other factor, is what sets Richards apart from other second line centers that the Hawks have tried. Sure, the goal-scoring and passing are both great assets, but that ability to skate quickly and be responsible defensively is just as crucial, and he had all of those gifts on full display in this game.