If your mind was elsewhere (Soldier Field) this past weekend, you may have missed two pretty big games for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Hawks played a smart road game on Saturday, taking down an injured Wings team, 4-1. Even banged-up, Detroit is still one of the best teams in the conference and the Hawks came off a five-day layoff with some good pace to their game. But the bigger storyline was Corey Crawford’s performance.
Crawford passed his first test at the vaunted Joe Louis Arena with flying colors. It was especially impressive after he got off to a rough start.
When Cory Emmerton flicked an easy shot on net, and Crawford sticked the puck over himself and into his goal, it looked like it could be a long afternoon for the rookie. But that was all the damage the Wings would do. Crawford was tested more, but responded as the game went along. With a 3-1 lead, a 20-save third period might have gone unnoticed, but he made some big saves and if any of the 20 get by him, who knows where the momentum goes.
After shaking off the bad goal, Crawford shut down one of the best teams in the league. As Duncan Keith would say later, “that was huge.”
Unfortunately, Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Philadelphia wasn’t as positive an experience. The Blackhawks played well in the first period, but slowly the game turned in the Flyers’ favor.
The defeat reiterated what we already knew about the Hawks: they’re good but not quite great. The Flyers, leading the NHL in points, are great. No wonder they could let Michael Leighton go, Sergei Bobrovsky was more than adequate in net. His right-pad save on Patrick Sharp, early in the game, set the tone for the contest. It wasn’t going to be an easy afternoon.
The Hawks were more passive than what’s needed to beat a team like Philadelphia. Herein, once again, is the difference between last year’s Hawks’ squad and this one. Philadelphia provides a good contrast since that’s the team the Hawks beat for the Stanley Cup.
Chris Pronger said the Hawks were missing the depth they had a year ago, but didn’t go into specifics. It’s not that they’re missing production -- guys like Jack Skille, Bryan Bickell, and Viktor Stalberg have chipped in.
Pronger is referring to the kind of depth the Hawks lost.
The Hawks just don’t have as much grit as last year and no amount of skill or speed can make up for it. It’s probably why they were interested in former Hawk Ben Eager before he got traded to the San Jose Sharks.
The Hawks have their goaltending figured out, a healthy roster, fairly intact lines and a defense which has made great strides, but the last piece to the puzzle remains: get gritty.
If the current crop of players can do it, or the Hawks can find one or two, via trade, that can, then teams like the Flyers might not have such an easy time getting wins at the United Center.