A travel day for both teams on Sunday gives us a chance to look at the good, the bad and one surprise of the Chicago Blackhawks' thrilling 2-1 overtime win over the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 5 on Saturday. The Hawks now trail the Western Conference quarterfinal series 3-2.
The reason Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was so happy with his team in Game 5 was they followed his game plan: shoot the puck. The Hawks had 38 shots on net. They had 29 more blocked and 17 missed the net altogether. That’s 84 attempts all told. Phoenix had 32. No one likes to get their shot blocked -- Duncan Keith had eight attempts alone -- but it’s all part of a grander scheme. Along with those that missed the net, it simply creates action in the offensive zone. Yes, getting blocked up near the point can create a breakaway or odd-man rush, but the amount of time and chasing the Coyotes did in their own end took away from any offensive attack. It was puck-possession hockey at its finest and you’re supposed to be rewarded for it eventually, even if not every shot or attempt is a great one. Those blocks can hurt defenders and those shots wear down a defense and goaltender. More of the same is needed in Game 6.
It can’t come as a surprise that two of the Hawks’ better skaters are struggling. Patrick Kane had an awful night in Game 5 and Viktor Stalberg's frustrations manifested themselves in the form of four minor penalties. Phoenix is ready to pounce on them if they try anything fancy. Seemingly most of the few chances the Coyotes had off the rush came as a result of a Kane turnover. Because of it, Kane had another quiet night in the offensive zone. Of those 84 attempts at the net, only three came from Kane. He’s totaled four shots on goal in the last two games and was 0-for-5 in the faceoff circle on Saturday. He had some helpers early in the series, but his play has gone backwards. Patrick Sharp isn’t lighting up the scoresheet either, but in his case some credit has to go to the Coyotes. They are bottling him up, but at least he’s not turning over the puck at inopportune times and places.
The best individual storyline to emerge from the Hawks is easily Michael Frolik. Destined for the doghouse and a healthy scratch for the series, he got his chance when Andrew Shaw was suspended. Frolik hasn’t looked back, earning points in all three games he’s played in, scoring two goals. He’s also totaled 11 shots and while he’s a skater in the same vein as Kane and Stalberg, he’s been looking to shoot from wherever he can. No player has worked harder to get back in the lineup. When others are leaving the practice rink Frolik has been on the ice working on his shot and his moves. It’s paid off, and even with the return of Shaw, Frolik should be a mainstay in the lineup for the rest of the series.
Jonathan Toews seems to be finding his stride after missing the final 22 regular-season games. His Game 1 was good but he kept it simple that night. Game 5 was his best of the series, prompting him to believe “something good was going to happen.” He won the game with his overtime goal and won 78 percent of his faceoffs to boot. The captain might just be back to form.
Shaw’s three-game suspension is over. Expect him to return to the lineup in place of either Brendan Morrison, Brandon Saad or Jimmy Hayes. Morrison and Saad were the only two forwards not to have a shot on net in Game 5. Neither have hurt the Hawks and the more Saad plays the better he’s looked, but jumping from the OHL to the NHL is about as hard as it gets. Hayes played 11:02 in his postseason debut, registering two shots, but his fourth line was caught deep on the Coyotes’ lone score.
The benching of Jamal Mayers remains a mystery. A stalwart in the lineup all season -- he was never a healthy scratch --Mayers sat out the last two games. He hasn’t addressed the media yet, and while it remains a secondary story, it’s a curious one. In playing Morrison over him, Quenneville simply said he liked Morrison’s experience and his work in practice but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Hawks coach indicated Mayers took the news hard which isn’t unexpected for a veteran of his character.