The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings may be separated into different conferences now thanks to realignment, but the two teams still put on quite a show in their first meeting of the season, with the Wings taking a 5-4 shootout victory over the defending champions.
The Hawks won’t have much time to rest as they prepare to face the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, but for now, we’ll take a quick look back at our Three Stars of the game.
Third Star: Marcus Kruger
Kruger was selected to represent Sweden in the Olympics in Sochi because of his gritty work and determination for the Hawks, and all facets of his game were on full display Wednesday night as he was on the ice for 15:22.
For starters, there was the remarkable night that he had in the face-off circle. Kruger, last year a liability in the dot, has turned that into one of the strengths of his game this season, and the 12 draws out of 14 that he won last night really helped the Blackhawks to establish possession in the defensive zone at times that they needed it the most.
Kruger also stepped up in a big way on the offensive side of things, scoring a third period goal to tie the game at 4-4. He was helped quite a bit by a misguided pass by Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith, but Kruger’s ability to read that play, as well as his patience in skating into the slot to take the shot, both paid off as he fired a gorgeous wrist shot off the inside of the post and into the net for the tying goal.
On a team that hasn’t had a true second line center in quite some time, it’s clear that Kruger would be a viable candidate for the position. His willingness to continue to grind and work hard on the fourth line has been evident even after he was passed over for a promotion in favor of Andrew Shaw, and that dedication to the team has been apparent as he has excelled in recent games.
Second Star: Patrick Sharp
As a general rule this season, Sharp has been one of the primary catalysts for the Hawks, and Wednesday night’s game was no exception, as he picked up a power play goal and had four shots on net in what was ultimately a losing effort. Sharp also scored a shootout goal to give the Blackhawks a chance to win, but Corey Crawford was unable to hold the lead, and the Hawks couldn’t score again in the extra frame.
Sharp’s power play goal was a perfect illustration of what the Hawks need to do in order to have success on the power play. For starters, there was the faceoff win for Jonathan Toews. After winning the draw cleanly, the puck found its way to Patrick Kane, who shoveled it over to Duncan Keith at the point. Keith quickly hit a slap pass to Sharp, who found up and blasted a slap shot past Jonas Gustavsson to give the Blackhawks back a 3-2 lead in the second period.
While all of that was in motion, Shaw was on his way to the front of the net to set a screen in front of the Detroit goaltender, and he was able to do so thanks to the poor positioning of Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall even looked to make some contact with Gustavsson in the crease, and as a result of all five guys doing their jobs to perfection, the Hawks got a goal that had the potential to be a key momentum shift in the game.
Unfortunately for their cause, the Wings were able to tie things up a brief time later, but the perfect execution on the power play tally was something that the team needs to build on.
First Star: Andrew Shaw
When Shaw was promoted to second line center recently, he acknowledged that he needed to continue to work hard and that he was on a short leash at the position. Games like Wednesday, where Shaw had a goal and three hits to his credit, are perhaps putting a little bit more slack into that leash.
We’ve already gone over Shaw’s contribution to Sharp’s second period goal, but Shaw’s performance on his own goal at both ends of the ice was what really stood out in this one. On the play, Shaw stole the puck from the Red Wings, and forced it up into the neutral zone for Brandon Saad. Saad was dragged down on the play as he drove to the net, and it appeared that Gustavsson was going to cover the puck up.
Oddly enough, the netminder missed the puck, and Kane jumped on it and flipped a gorgeous shot over Gustavsson. The shot ended up hitting the crossbar and the far post, and fell harmlessly into the blue paint. Suddenly, Shaw was back in the play, having driven hard to the net, and he eventually forced the puck into the net to extend the Blackhawks’ lead to 2-0.
Getting to the net is something that Joel Quenneville constantly preaches to his team, and Shaw seems to take that message to heart quite often. Whether it’s screening the goalie or scrounging for rebounds, Shaw has been in top form lately, and it’s a big reason why the second line is seeing so much success lately.