The Chicago Blackhawks’ offense started out slowly on Sunday night, but they finished with a flourish as they scored three third-period goals to knock off the San Jose Sharks by a score of 5-1 at the team’s final game at the United Center until December 3rd.
Without further adieu, here are Sunday’s Three Stars:
Third Star: Brandon Saad
Saad has made a big impression on Hawks fans this season with his outstanding play on both sides of the ice, and Sunday night was just another feather in his cap on both offense and defense.
He got started out on the defensive side of things early in the first period as the Sharks were pressing the tempo to get the Hawks out of their comfort zone. On a play going up the ice, Tomas Hertl cut through the middle of the zone, and it looked as though he’d get a high quality chance against Corey Crawford. Fortunately for the Hawks, Saad saw the play develop, and he stepped over and lifted Hertl’s stick so that the dynamic Sharks’ rookie couldn’t even get a shot on net, and a potential crisis was averted.
In the third period of the game, Saad showed his instincts on the offensive side of the puck, sensing a breakaway opening up. He made a break for the red line, and Kris Versteeg saw the play perfectly and feathered a pass to Saad. The youngster didn’t score, but fortunately for him, Versteeg was following up on the play, and potted the rebound for a goal to put the Hawks ahead 4-1.
Overall on the night, Saad only had one shot on goal, but he did pick up two assists and played quality minutes both at even strength and on special teams, and his improved versatility has got to be something that has head coach Joel Quenneville licking his chops.
Second Star: Patrick Sharp
It isn’t often that a guy with three points gets relegated to the Second Star position in our rankings, but even with this perceived slight, Sharp still had a fantastic night for the Hawks. He pushed the tempo early and often in the game, racking up seven attempted shots (four of which found their way on net) and scoring on two of them to give him seven goals on the season.
Both of his goals in the game are worthy of further inspection. On his first, Sharp had to patiently wait for the play to develop in front of him, as Marcus Kruger carried the puck up the ice on a solid transition by the Hawks. When Kruger executed a nice curl move to evade James Sheppard in the slot, Sharp immediately broke for the net, and Kruger found him with a perfect pass as Sharp one-timed the puck home to give the Hawks the lead.
Late in the third period, Sharp had another opportunity to score, but was caught from behind by Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Fortunately for Sharp, he drew a penalty shot, and his move on former Blackhawk Antti Niemi was a thing of beauty. He deked to Niemi’s stick side, and then when the Finnish goaltender committed to that near post, Sharp quickly switched to his forehand side and roofed a shot for his first career penalty shot tally.
With Marian Hossa out of the lineup, one could have expected a dip in production out of Sharp in these last two games, but he has looked as effective as ever, and is making a compelling case to be the Hawks’ early season MVP.
First Star: Kris Versteeg
In only his second game with the Hawks, Versteeg came out looking to impress the home crowd at the United Center, and he did not disappoint in his 15 minutes of ice time in this one.
Vertseeg picked up an assist on Brandon Pirri’s first period goal, and even though it was just a secondary helper, it was still a crucial one. On the play, Versteeg went along the boards in the defensive zone to join a puck battle, and he ended up winning it cleanly. Not content to just win the battle, Versteeg put a good pass onto the stick of Pirri, who deked out a defender and then pushed the puck up ice to Kane for the rush.
Later in the game, it was Versteeg who sprung Saad on his breakaway attempt, and then instead of just peeling back and watching the play unfold, Versteeg followed the puck and then pounded the rebound into the empty net to stretch out the Hawks lead.
In just two games with Chicago, Versteeg has proven his worth all over the ice, and even when the Hawks return to full strength with Hossa’s return to the lineup, one can still expect Versteeg to get some top-six minutes no matter what.