The Chicago Blackhawks may have enjoyed themselves over the Christmas holiday, but they didn’t let their revelry impact their play on the ice, as they blew out the Colorado Avalanche by a 7-2 margin at the United Center Friday night.
Without further adieu, here are the Three Stars of the night for Chicago:
Third Star: Kris Versteeg
General Managers like Ray Shero and Peter Chiarelli might be lauded by pundits around the league for their deadline day savvy, but Stan Bowman’s in-season moves should really be mentioned in the same breath, and the acquisition of Versteeg in November is yet another example of his genius.
Consider what Versteeg did for the Blackhawks on Friday. Just as the Blackhawks had surrendered a goal to the Avalanche, it was Versteeg who teamed up with Michal Handzus to right the ship. When the puck found its way into the corner behind the Colorado net, Versteeg and Handzus aggressively dug in after it and eventually stripped it away from the Avs. Versteeg’s pass to Patrick Kane set the wheels in motion, and Handzus got the ultimate reward when Kane’s backhanded pass to the middle of the ice set up an easy goal for the veteran center.
Versteeg wasn’t done yet, however. Just a few minutes later, Versteeg showed off the offensive side of his game, as he attempted to execute a give-and-go with Duncan Keith. Keith’s return pass on the rush ended up bouncing off of Andre Benoit, but the puck came right to Versteeg, who promptly snapped a shot past Jean Sebastien Giguere to make it 7-1 Blackhawks.
Those two plays illustrate the kind of two-way player that Versteeg is, and he has been an indispensable asset for the Hawks ever since Joel Quenneville promoted him to the second line recently.
Second Star: Jonathan Toews
It isn’t often that a guy with two goals and two assists ends up getting relegated to the Second Star spot, but Toews’ Friday performance shouldn’t be looked down upon because of that slotting.
Like Versteeg, Toews made his presence felt both when he had the puck and when he didn’t this one. On two of the Blackhawks’ goals (one by Toews himself, and the other by Patrick Sharp), it was Toews who went into the corner of the ice and came out with the puck to set the plays up.
That willingness to get dirty is a quality that his teammates surely find endearing, but where Toews makes his big mark on the psyche of fans is when he has the puck on his stick. His second period goal, scored after catching a stretch pass from Sharp at the blue line, was a thing of beauty. He took a couple of strides, then made his way across the goal mouth. Giguere could only flail about helplessly as Toews deked him out of his pads, and slid the puck into the net to give Chicago a 5-0 lead.
We’ll have a deeper dissection of what happened on that play in a moment, but it was just another example of how dangerous a confident Toews can be, and he was part of a massive effort by the Blackhawks’ top line in this one.
First Star: Patrick Sharp
Sharp, who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Friday, rose to the occasion in a big way in this one, scoring three goals and adding an assist in what was an easy Blackhawks triumph.
Each of his three goals were beautiful in their own way, whether you are looking at the wicked snapshots that he fired past Giguere on his first and second tallies or whether you’re looking at the rebound he jousted away from Erik Johnson in front of the Avs’ net, before he backhanded the puck into the net to seal his hat trick.
Where Sharp was at his absolute best was on his assist in the second period. On that play, Matt Duchene made a tremendous run into the Hawks’ zone, and looked like he’d be rewarded for his aggressiveness with a breakaway opportunity. Unfortunately for him, he may have taken just a tad too long in deciding what to do, as Sharp raced up from behind him and lifted his stick to steal the puck away.
Then, with barely so much as a glance up the ice, Sharp wheeled around the faceoff dot along the near boards, and fired a pass from the goal line all the way to the Colorado blue line, where Toews gratefully accepted the dish and ended up beating Giguere for a gorgeous goal.
The main knock when it comes to Sharp’s game is that he is a streaky player, and to a degree, that is certainly true, as he does tend to run hot and cold sometimes on the offensive side of things. In terms of his defensive effort, as well as his hustle when he does have the puck, Sharp never takes a night off, and he provides a great example to the rest of the team defensively with plays like the steal from Duchene on Friday night.