Rewind: Observations from Hawks-Coyotes
December, 1, 2013
By Scott Powers | ESPNChicago.com
Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty ImagesNiklas Hjalmarsson and teammate Johnny Oduya celebrate the Blackhawks' first-period goal.
Here are four observations from the Chicago Blackhawks' 5-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday:
1. Antti Raanta is making the Blackhawks a complete team. He may only start once a week, but having that reliable backup goaltender is essential if the Blackhawks are going to finish atop their division. Even without Nikolai Khabibulin's injury, the Blackhawks were soon going to be forced to make a backup goaltending decision. They couldn’t go much longer with Khabibulin’s inconsistencies. Corey Crawford will carry more of the regular-season load than last season, but the Blackhawks need to give him days off, and they have to feel like they have a shot in winning when he’s not in net. Raanta has been solid in his first two career starts. He’s still adjusting to the faster game and smaller rinks, but the skill appears to be there. If he keeps it up, the question is whether Khabibulin will be back in net for the Blackhawks this season.
2. The Blackhawks’ fourth line had one of its best games of the season. The line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith played well for much of the road trip, but it was especially reliable on both ends of the ice on Saturday. The line had a positive Corsi rating, combined for eight shots on goal and clinched the win with a goal by Bollig midway through the third period.
3. The Blackhawks’ most impressive play of the night was on Niklas Hjalmarsson's goal. With Patrick Kane possessing the puck in the right corner, Hjalmarsson caught the Coyotes’ Tim Kennedy watching Kane instead of him, and Hjalmarsson skated up from the blue line to the top of the right circle. Kane saw Hjalmarsson and somehow slipped a pass between two Coyotes’ defenders. Hjalmarsson caught the puck, skated a little further to his left to create some open space between him and the Coyotes’ Radim Vrbata and fired a shot into the net. Kane and Hjalmarsson had little room to work with and made the most of it.
4. The Blackhawks again prevailed with the game on the line in the third period. The Blackhawks were either tied or in a one-goal game in five of their seven games during the trip, and they won all five. The Blackhawks held a 3-2 advantage heading into the third period on Saturday and outplayed the Coyotes for much of the final 20 minutes.