Three Stars: Ben Smith Shows Great Two-Way Ability in Hawks Loss

Also, Brent Seabrook's nose for the goal was on full display in this one

The Chicago Blackhawks had ended 2013 with a bang, but they started off 2014 with a whimper as they dropped a 3-2 decision to the New York Islanders on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.

We’ll have plenty of coverage of this game, as well as the game coming up against the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, but for now, here were Thursday’s Three Stars:

Third Star: Brent Seabrook

With three shots on goal and a goal in 23:04 of ice time against the Islanders, Seabrook was one of the only Blackhawks who really pushed the tempo on offense consistently on the evening, but it was his play on both sides of the puck that really stood out.

On a Michael Grabner breakaway in the second period, it appeared that the Islanders were going to get a chance to extend their lead with one of their best snipers bearing down on Corey Crawford in net. Fortunately for the Hawks, Seabrook was able to somehow get back after falling behind on the play, and then he forced Grabner off the puck and ended the threat.

On Seabrook’s second period goal, he showed off another element of his game that he rarely deploys: an aggressive tendency to push towards the net. On a power play, the Blackhawks were cycling the puck around the zone, and the Islanders completely lost their bearings in their coverage scheme. With so many bodies moving around, Seabrook found a soft spot in the slot, slowly skated into it, and when Kris Versteeg fired a pass across the zone, Seabrook one-timed a slap shot from the face-off dot and buried it past Evgeni Nabokov to get the Hawks within a 2-1 margin.

That ability to sense weak spots in coverage, as well as executing a complicated backcheck to disrupt a rush, are both great qualities for a defenseman, and Seabrook showing both of those sends the signal that Duncan Keith isn’t the only high quality defenseman on this roster.

Second Star: Corey Crawford

Giving up three goals generally isn’t a recipe for success in terms of getting on our Three Stars list, but Crawford’s play on Thursday night in his first game back from injury definitely transcends that number.

His first test of the game showed that he was ready to go, as Matt Martin came in on a 2-on-1 rush early in the game when the Blackhawks were really imposing their will on offense. Despite the rust he likely had, Crawford read the play perfectly, and instead of going down to make the save, he went down in the butterfly and lifted up his shoulders to protect the top of the net. He made the save and pushed the puck over the net.

Crawford’s biggest sequence came in the early stages of the second period. After the Blackhawks collapsed on the Islanders’ forwards along the boards, the puck found its way to an unmarked Grabner, who skated in all alone toward the net. Crawford timed his stick-sweep perfectly, knocking the puck away and preventing the Isles’ sniper from even getting a shot off. Then, Martin came in again towards the net, and on a shot from the doorstep, Crawford dispelled any notion that his injury was bothering him with a great lateral move and save across the crease.

On all three Islanders goals, Crawford was more a victim of poor Blackhawks defense than any of his own shortcomings, and the Hawks have got him to thank for getting at least a point in this game.

First Star: Ben Smith

Smith was part of a great fourth line effort against the Islanders in this one, picking up his fifth goal of the season when he scored following an early third period penalty kill.

Even before that goal, Smith was all over the ice in the early going. He was doing his best to disrupt the Islanders’ top line, led by John Tavares, and he and Marcus Kruger established a couple of fantastic possessions in the first period as the Hawks really dominated the puck in that frame.
Smith’s goal in the third period also came as a result of that kind of hard work on both ends of the ice.

After he finished off killing a Patrick Sharp penalty, Smith joined Sharp and Jonathan Toews on a beeline towards the Islanders’ net. In the ensuing scrum, the puck ended up right at Smith’s feet, and amid a myriad of sticks and shoves, he was able to flip the puck into the net to tie things up and put an exclamation point on his night.

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