Brandon Saad (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
If we’re to be perfectly frank, there weren’t a whole lot of positives to glean from the Chicago Blackhawks’ 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
The team lost Bryan Bickell to an injury, saw Corey Crawford get chased from the game after allowing three goals in seven shots, and was down 5-0 before they could finally find a way to beat Semyon Varlamov.
Despite being buried by the Avalanche, there were a couple of players who were able to stand out on the positive side of the ledger, and they make up our Three Stars from what was a disappointing game for the Hawks.
Third Star: Ben Smith
With all of the hubbub surrounding Sheldon Brookbank’s play on the third line for the Blackhawks, the performances of members of the team’s fourth line have been lost in the shuffle. While Brandon Bollig struggled a bit on Tuesday night, Smith had one of his better games of the season.
He played a season high 15:58 of ice time in the game, and he played nearly a minute worth of penalty killing time on what was an excellent kill by the Hawks. He also picked up a blocked shot and a hit in the game, and his five attempted shots (three SOG) showed that he was really trying to push the tempo on offense too.
Smith has been a guy who has always flown under the radar, but he is truly an ideal guy for the Hawks to have in their bottom six forwards. He is a gritty guy who can play both offense and defense, and his feelings don’t get hurt if he’s asked to perform the grunt work of going out for limited even strength minutes, and then having to jump right out and perform on the penalty kill.
Those kinds of guys have tremendous value that goes beyond just putting the puck in the net, and Smith is starting to round into form after a rough start to the season.
Second Star: Patrick Kane
Kane played well on his 25th birthday, picking up an assist and three shots on goal in the game, but what’s most interesting about his play was how it was a great microcosm of how his birthday usually goes when the Hawks hit the ice on November 19th.
In Kane’s career, the Hawks are now 1-3 on the date, and none of the four games have ever been close. Things started out well for Kane in his first birthday game in 2009, as he scored a goal and added an assist as the Hawks extinguished the Calgary Flames by a 7-1 margin.
Against those same Flames the next season though, the result was completely different. The Hawks were blown out by Calgary 7-2, one of only two losses they sustained on their circus trip that year. Their performance on Kane’s 23rd birthday in 2011 wasn’t much better, as they ran into a buzzsaw in the Edmonton Oilers. Sam Gagner scored four goals and added four assists in the game as the Oilers crushed the Hawks 9-2, scoring four power play goals in the process.
Including Tuesday’s loss, that means that the Hawks have surrendered 22 goals in four games on Kane’s birthday, so perhaps next time the team would be better off hitting the town to celebrate with the veteran winger instead of actually hitting the ice.
First Star: Brandon Saad
After a stellar start to the season, Saad has continued to impress with his maturation on the offensive side of the ice, and his six attempted shots (four SOG) that he had in a losing effort to the Avalanche underscores how even when the rest of the team is struggling, Saad still keeps fighting.
His goal was a great example of that work ethic. On the play, the Hawks were once again crashing Varlamov’s crease, but the Colorado goaltender was standing tall. The puck found its way out to the point, but Duncan Keith did a nice job of keeping it in the zone and immediately firing it back toward Varlamov. Kane came across the ice and deflected it on net, and that’s where Saad came in.
Saad attempted to hit the puck with his forehand to catch Varlamov out of position, but he whiffed. Not deterred, Saad instead turned around and hit the puck with his backhand, and that shot was enough to catch Varlamov napping, and it went between his leg pads to bring the Hawks within four goals.
In the grand scheme of things, the goal wasn’t the most important one in the world, but it demonstrate that even in a fleeting moment in a game that was a lost cause, Saad still grinds it out, and that has to be something that Quenneville loves to see.