Jonathan Toews (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t waste any time getting out ahead of the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night, scoring two first period goals en route to a 5-1 victory in the first stop of a two-game Alberta swing.
With that, here are Monday’s Three Stars:
Third Star: Marcus Kruger
Kruger hasn’t gotten a lot of love this season since the Hawks have been struggling on the penalty kill, but he made an excellent play on Monday night at even strength that earned him this spot in this countdown.
On the play, Kruger went behind the Edmonton net to help out Brandon Bollig, who was engaged in a puck-battle. Kruger didn’t stay long though, as Bollig did a great job of winning the puck back. Kruger grabbed the puck just behind the goal line, and immediately began to skate it back towards the blue line.
He drew Ryan Nugent-Hopkins off of Johnny Oduya, and Kruger’s bounce pass off the boards came out far enough to give Oduya an open shooting lane, and his slap shot from the point was deflected in by Oilers’ defenseman Corey Potter, and it gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead.
It was a subtle move and pass by Kruger to give Oduya enough space to take the shot, but it was a savvy pass by a guy who has really embraced his role as a gritty fourth line player.
Second Star: Jonathan Toews
The Hawks’ captain has been playing some excellent hockey in recent weeks and he continued to do so on Monday, scoring a goal and racking up three shots in just under 20 minutes of play in the team’s win.
The goal he scored should be used as an example by the coaching staff of what the forwards on the Hawks’ penalty kill need to do to be successful. On that play, Brandon Saad was trying to move the puck out of the zone, and his stick ended up breaking on the attempt. The puck found its way to Nail Yakupov at the blue line (for some reason, the Oilers use five forwards on their power play), but Toews wasn’t content with that outcome.
Having already started skating out of the zone, Toews went right after Yakupov, and the Oilers’ second-year forward hesitated with the puck. Toews stole it easily, and on the ensuing breakaway, he did a simple backhand to forehand deke and lifted the puck past Devan Dubnyk to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
That aggressive approach is a great one for the Hawks to use. Toews forced the issue with Yakupov, and having to make decisions under duress is always a tough order for the point men on power plays. That is why the Hawks’ forwards need to be more assertive, and if they can do that, then their poor penalty killing percentage will improve.
First Star: Andrew Shaw
After committing a silly penalty against the Canucks on Saturday night that ended up costing the Blackhawks a goal, Shaw came into Monday’s game clearly looking to make amends for his error. He did just that, scoring two goals and picking up an assist in one of his best games of the season.
Even though Shaw’s goals were both really good plays (he had a nice rush on his tap-in goal off Jeremy Morin’s pass in the second period, and his deflection of Nick Leddy’s shot in the third period was also an athletic play), it was his assist that he picked up on Patrick Kane’s first period goal that really stood out.
On that play, Duncan Keith fired a shot from the point that ended up hitting Shaw and Toews in front of the Edmonton net. The puck remained loose near the crease, but it was Shaw that ended up prying it free from the fracas and pushing it out to the side of the net. It was there that Kane picked it up and flipped it into the open net to put the Hawks ahead 2-0.
That willingness to not only get to the front of the net, but also to battle hard for the puck if it ends up stopping there, is a huge boost to a power play that has been looking for that type of physical presence in Bryan Bickell’s absence (and, truth be told, even he isn’t as great as Dustin Byfuglien was at it), and if Shaw can continue to produce like that, then the Hawks should see more production out of their power play moving forward.