For the Chicago Blackhawks, Tuesday night was a welcome reprieve from the questions that dogged the team after Game 3 of their series with the Minnesota Wild. Gone were the questions surrounding a perceived lack of effort and in their place were happier queries about what went right and what it all meant as the series shifts back to Chicago for Thursday’s Game 5.
More so than any other individual factor in the game was how the Blackhawks were finally able to counter the pressure that the Wild were putting on them offensively. In the hockey game, the Wild were able to take 68 shots. Of those 68, 25 found their way to goaltender Corey Crawford, but a mind-boggling 26 of them were blocked and 17 of the shots missed the mark entirely.
There are two ways Hawks fans can look at those numbers. The first school of thought is that the team was conceding the sides of the ice to the Wild but did a good job in clogging up the middle and cutting off both passing and shooting lanes. The other is that the Hawks were too passive in their approach and they were forced to block shots because of defensive inefficiency.
The way to correctly look at it is likely the first way. The Blackhawks have been a team largely predicated on preventing shots getting on goal under the tutelage of head coach Joel Quenneville, and there are several players who have enabled him to make that strategy an integral part of his team’s approach to the game. Niklas Hjalmarsson has been one such key contributor, and he was active in the shot blocking game this season, finishing the season by averaging nearly two per contest.
Brent Seabrook is another player who Quenneville likes to see drop to the ice to block shots. He ended up finishing 14th in the league with 103 blocked shots in 47 games, and also dished out 106 hits, giving him a double whammy of defensive physicality.
In Tuesday’s contest, those two did their fair share of shot blocking, but an unlikely source had the highest number of blocked shots: Johnny Oduya. Although he did finish in the top 50 in the league in the category with 79 blocks, Oduya’s game is based more so on speed and passing than it is on dropping to the ice to take one for the team, so to speak. In Tuesday’s game, however, he did a great job of getting between the Wild shooters and the net, and ended up with six blocked shots to lead his team.
The blocked-shot approach can work really well at times against a team without a lot of quickness, but as the playoffs wear on, it will be interesting to see whether or not Quenneville’s bunch can adapt to a team that can maneuver around prone players on the ice. The strategy of clogging up the neutral zone and an aggressive backcheck are also weapons in the Hawks’ defensive arsenal, but it will be interesting to see if those arrows in the quiver are as sharp as the ones the Hawks lobbed at the Wild on Tuesday.