In most offices, people constantly come down with a "case of the Monday’s," but in the case of the Chicago Blackhawks, it seems as though they are more likely to come down with a case of the "Saturday’s" instead.
This season, the Hawks have lost games in embarrassing fashion to both the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators on Saturdays, but this week’s edition of the traditional meltdown was right up there with those clunkers. The Hawks were outhustled and outplayed in every area of the ice, and neither Antti Raanta nor Kent Simpson could come up with an answer as the Hawks were throttled 7-3 by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
The Blackhawks will have a chance to redeem themselves with a Sunday night tilt against the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center, but before they do that, let’s look back at three players that actually came up big for the Hawks in the game.
Honorable Mention: Dion Phaneuf
Since Phaneuf was the player that put Patrick Kane’s first period goal into the net, and since Phaneuf also put in a puck off the glove of Marian Hossa that was later overturned, we thought we’d razz him a bit and include him on the list as an honorable mention.
Third Star: Michal Handzus
The real third star of the game for the Hawks didn’t have the most dazzling stat line. In only 13:25 of ice time in the game, Handzus had no points, a minus-2 rating, three shots on goal, and a blocked shot in the losing effort for Chicago.
The reason that Handzus made the list today was because of his performance on the team’s penalty killing unit during what was a rough first period for that group. On several occasions during multiple Leafs power plays, Handzus showed some great on-ice awareness, and jumped passing lanes before clearing the puck out of the zone and forcing Toronto to reset.
One of the things that has been a problem for the Hawks’ penalty killing unit so far this season has been a collective lack of aggressiveness from their penalty killing forwards, and it was good to see Handzus going with the flow and allowing his instincts to take over when he was disrupting the Leaf offense.
Second Star: Brandon Saad
On a night where some of Team USA’s brightest stars were on the ice, Saad did his best to hang with the big boys, and he very nearly outshone all of the Americans on Toronto’s sheet.
That’s because Saad picked up his 12th goal of the season and also had two shots on goal in 16:02 of ice time in the game. He also continued his excellent run of two-way play in this game as well, doing a wonderful job of backchecking the Leafs in the neutral zone and really being one of the only forwards for the Hawks in the game that were able to disrupt Toronto at all.
Saad’s goal was just another example though of the great awareness that he has developed in those kinds of situations. Saad got to the front of the net despite the Hawks being down 6-2 at that point in the game, and when Nick Leddy let a shot go from the blue line, Saad was there to deflect the puck past Jonathan Bernier to bring the Hawks to within three goals.
With guys like Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane already having roster spots locked down, as well as having to deal with really strong contenders like James van Riemsdyk, Saad may end up being the odd man out for Team USA in the Sochi Olympics, but he is definitely proving that he could be part of a new generation of great American forwards with the way he has played in his sophomore NHL season.
First Star: Patrick Kane
On a night when the Hawks’ offense was largely silenced by the dominance of Toronto’s attack, it was Kane who was the real spark plug for Chicago in this game.
Kane picked up his 18th and 19th goals of the season in the contest, and he ended up totaling 11 attempted shots in the game (eight of which found their way on goal) as he tried to kickstart a Hawks offense that looked outslugged the entire night.
His brightest moment came in the second period when the Hawks were still hanging around in the game. After a brilliant pokecheck by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson at center ice, Kane took the puck and carried it into the offensive zone. As soon as Kane hit the blue line, he was scanning the rest of the ice, and really threw Bernier off on his read of the developing play.
Then, with a flick of his wrists, Kane sent an awesome wrist shot between Bernier’s leg pads to bring the Blackhawks to within a goal in the game. Bernier was caught completely off guard by the shot, as he was preparing for Kane to make the pass back across the ice to set up a one-timer, and Kane’s ability to look off the goaltender and get an open shooting lane really came in handy on this one.