The Chicago Blackhawks have had the Columbus Blue Jackets’ number in recent years, and that dominance continued on Thursday night as the Hawks picked up a 6-1 victory over their former Central Division rivals.
Without further adieu, here are the Three Stars of the game.
Third Star: Brandon Saad
Before Thursday’s game, head coach Joel Quenneville pulled off one of his patented line shuffles, and slotted Saad with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Shaw on the team’s top line. He also sent Patrick Sharp down to the second line with Patrick Kane and Michal Handzus to try to even out production on the top two lines in Marian Hossa’s absence.
If the victory over the Blue Jackets is any indication, then the switch had the desired effect. Saad had five shots on goal in the game, and also picked up an assist in 15:00 of ice time in the contest.
Saad’s best moment came in the second period when he pulled off a move that few NHL players can. As he got the puck off a pass from Brent Seabrook at the point, Saad rushed back towards the net, and wove his way around two Jackets defenders, and eventually got in alone against Sergei Bobrovsky. Instead of taking a shot at the fully-committed goaltender however, Saad slid a simple pass over to Toews at the other side of the net, who tapped in the shot and gave the Hawks a 3-1 advantage.
It was an act of puck sorcery that you see frequently from a Hawks team loaded with offensive talent, but despite being increasingly common, it was still mesmerizing to watch.
Second Star: Jonathan Toews
Speaking of Toews, the Hawks’ captain has been lighting the world on fire over the past few games for Chicago. He picked up two goals in the team’s victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field, tallied another one in Tuesday’s loss to the Avalanche, and then racked up two more goals on Thursday against Columbus.
What really stood out about Toews’ effort in the game wasn’t so much that he scored the goals, but rather that he was able to take advantage of the facilitating play of those guys around him. On the Saad goal, Toews crept in from the face-off dot and got in position near the net so that Saad had a target to pass to, but on the captain’s second goal of the game, he made a similar move and punctuated it with a high quality shot.
On the play, Kane got the puck along the side of the cage, but instead of rushing the shot, he pulled his patented move of skating around the back of the net to try to get the defense rotating into different positions. With several Jackets players abandoning their lanes, Toews used the opportunity to come down from the face-off dot and into the slot. Kane found him with a pass, and Toews snapped a one-timer past Curtis McElhinney to make it a 6-1 game, and ruined any Jacket hopes of making it a closer game.
It was a great bit of instinctive hockey on the part of Toews, and even though the feeds from Saad and Kane were both perfect, it took intelligence on Toews’ part as well to seal the deal.
First Star: Andrew Shaw
Before Thursday’s game, Shaw told the media that he was looking to embrace his new role as a first line winger in Hossa’s absence, and he certainly did that in the game, grabbing two goals in the victory.
The first goal came off a gorgeous stretch pass from Sheldon Brookbank that somehow evaded Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson, and then Shaw did the rest as he roofed a pretty snapshot over Bobrovsky to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead near the end of the first period. The other tally came courtesy of Shaw’s skates, as a Seabrook shot from the point ended up clipping the blade of Shaw’s skate as he jumped out of the way.
Where Shaw made his biggest contribution in the game actually game on Toews’ goal in the second period. On the play, Shaw drilled Nathan Horton in the corner of the ice, and a couple of Jackets tried to come to his defense. While Shaw was distracting the defense, Saad went to work on his gorgeous slicing drive to the net, and the resulting goal sent the UC into a frenzy.
Shaw may get a lot of grief for the edge-of-his-seat style that he plays with, but on nights like Thursday, it really comes in handy. Whether with his nice wrist shot or his penchant for physical play, Shaw can impact the game in a lot of different ways, and he really opened up his bag of tricks in this one.