3 Stars: Toews, Oduya Key as Hawks Down Predators

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The Chicago Blackhawks have outshot their last two opponents by a margin of 87-38, but after a Wednesday loss to the Calgary Flames, Saturday night’s outcome was more positive as a Jonathan Toews short-handed goal in overtime gave them a 2-1 victory over the Nashville Predators.

There were some things that were negative about the game, but in this edition of Three Stars, we’ll focus on the positives.

Third Star: Trevor van Riemsdyk

One of the downsides of being a rookie in the NHL is that you don’t really have a set place in a lineup, and van Riemsdyk found that out the hard way on Saturday night, as he was taken off of a pairing with Niklas Hjalmarsson and united with Michal Rozsival.

Instead of worrying about the change in partner, van Riemsdyk seemed to thrive, making a couple of sterling defensive plays that displayed his patience and his skillset. The first came early in the first period, as Seth Jones bore down on the Blackhawks net. After the Nashville defenseman intercepted a pass from Patrick Sharp, he turned up ice and got a clean release across the blue line. Using his speed, van Riemsdyk chased down Jones and tied him up near the net, preventing a shot on goal.

For good measure, van Riemsdyk then intercepted a pass from Jones behind the net to prevent a follow-up opportunity, and the Hawks maintained their early 1-0 lead.

Later in the game, van Riemsdyk made another nice play when he intercepted a cross-ice pass by Derek Roy, who was looking for a trailer in the offensive zone. Add to that the occasions that the rookie cleared the puck from in front of the net to limit rebound chances, and you have arguably the most impressive game that he has played in his young NHL career.

Second Star: Johnny Oduya

Speaking of defensemen who were instrumental in the Hawks’ Saturday win, Oduya played a really solid game at both ends of the ice. His first period goal got the ball rolling in a big way for the Hawks, as he likely took Carter Hutton by surprise as he rifled a slap shot from the top of the face-off circle. The puck ended up squirting between Hutton’s leg pads, and the Hawks got a 1-0 lead on their first shot of the game.

In the second period, Oduya made his presence known on the defensive side of things as well. With Nashville forward James Neal bearing down on Corey Crawford, Oduya quickly got into position and tied up Neal’s stick, preventing a breakaway opportunity and helping keep the contest tied.

Being reunited with Hjalmarsson was something that felt inevitable ever since Joel Quenneville separated the pairing, and Oduya certainly proved that he is really happy to have his running mate back.

First Star: Jonathan Toews

Even before his game-winning short-handed goal in overtime, Toews and the first line were arguably the best group on the ice (although the fourth line of Daniel Carcillo, Ben Smith, and Marcus Kruger generated a ton of chances in limited action). Overall, the group attempted 14 shots on goal in the game, and they largely carried possession whenever they were on the ice.

Ultimately though, it was Toews’ ability at both ends of the ice that paid the most dividends as he scored the winner. When Craig Smith attempted a drop pass to Roman Josi at the point on the Predators’ overtime power play, Toews read the pass, intercepted it, and carried it down ice on a breakaway.

Toews’ first shot on net was stopped by Hutton, but the goaltender was unable to corral the puck. With the rebound yielded, Toews tapped the puck between Hutton’s skates, and the United Center erupted as the Hawks secured their third victory of the young campaign. 

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