Three Stars: Toews Has Nice Night as Hawks Knock Off Kings

The Blackhawks give up one goal a night after surrendering seven as they right the ship

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After having a rough night in Toronto, the Chicago Blackhawks rebounded in a big way on Sunday, scoring three times in the first period and cruising from there in a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center.

We’ll have more reaction to the game throughout the day on the blog, but for now, here are Sunday’s Three Stars:

Third Star: Antti Raanta

After getting pulled from Saturday night’s loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Hawks’ rookie goaltender had a great bounceback game on Sunday against the Kings, making 21 saves and only allowing one goal in picking up his sixth victory of the season for Chicago.

There was one sequence in particular where Raanta’s evolving skillset was on full display. After the Blackhawks got a late power play in the second period, the Kings took advantage of a faceoff win by Anze Kopitar to push the puck up the ice, and they ended up picking up a couple of really good short-handed chances.

On back-to-back shots from within about 15 feet, Kopitar put the puck on net, but even under duress with traffic near him, Raanta stood his ground, moving confidently in the crease and directing the puck away on each shot. When Jonathan Toews lifted Kopitar’s stick near the crease, it ended the chance for the Kings, and the game went on largely uneventfully for the Blackhawks’ goaltender.

With the kind of aggressive defense the Hawks preach from everyone in their lineup, there aren’t going to be a lot of really difficult nights for their goaltenders, but even when the heat was turned up a bit in this one, Raanta was up to the task. His lateral movement looked much more fluid in this one, and his rebound control was spot-on as well. If he can continue to have games like this in the future, then the Hawks could have a very nice asset waiting in the wings if Corey Crawford suffers any more setbacks during his new contract that starts next year.

Second Star: Patrick Kane

Kane had a relatively easy night on Sunday for the Hawks, only having to play 16:47 in the game, but he made the most of it, racking up five shots on goal and picking up an assist in a relatively easy Blackhawks win.

It was how he came about that assist that earned him a spot on this list after the game. After the Hawks had taken a 1-0 lead on Marian Hossa’s short-handed goal, they continued to press the tempo of the game, and were doing a great job of applying pressure to the Kings in the neutral zone throughout the rest of the first period.

The fruits of those efforts were evident when Kane made a great play along the boards near the red line. After going in and winning a puck battle, Kane was able to push the puck up the ice, and Kris Versteeg did the rest, faking a pass across the ice to Michal Handzus before firing a shot past the glove of Ben Scrivens to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead.

That subtle play, created by a decision to go into a dirty area and come out with the puck, displays the kind of defensive prowess that Kane has really incorporated into his game in recent years, and head coach Joel Quenneville will certainly give that play some props when the coaching staff watches video of this game.

First Star: Jonathan Toews

We’ll have a more detailed breakdown of Toews’ evening in a blog post later this morning, but there was one play in particular that really set the tone for the rest of the night for the Hawks’ captain.

In the first period, the Blackhawks found themselves on the penalty kill after a Johnny Oduya tripping call, but Chicago was able to generate some offense out of the situation thanks to a great defensive play by Toews. Going into the corner behind the Kings’ net, Toews was able to lift Jake Muzzin’s stick, and in one quick move, grabbed the puck and fed it to the front of the net, where Hossa was waiting to flip the puck into the net past a stunned Scrivens to give the Hawks an early lead.

Defensive plays were the order of the day for the Blackhawks, but none were quite so perfect as the way Toews extracted the puck off of Muzzin’s stick blade. It was a deft move and one that the youngster had no way of counter-acting, and it shows the defensive acumen that the Hawks’ captain has.

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