After two consecutive years of being “outcoached” by Joel Quenneville, Alain Vigneault is winning this series with shrewd icetime management. Three days ago, he announced that he planned to limit the Sedins’ shifts to between 30 and 35 seconds, and he caught flack for it. Tony Gallagher said there had never been a dumber idea. Despite criticism, however, he’s followed through since. For the second game in a row, Daniel and Henrik averaged 35-second shifts. In a series where the Blackhawks’ stars are being played to exhaustion, the twins have been able to hop over the boards fresher than the prince of Bel-Air and score timely goals against exhausted opposition. It made the difference two nights ago, and it made the difference again tonight. I watched this game.
Consider, for example, Daniel Sedin’s 2-1 goal, when the twins, fresh as daisies, scored four seconds into a shift where every Chicago player had been on the ice for 54 seconds or more. Pat Kane had been on the ice for two full minutes. The scoring chance is generated when Alex Edler saunters around a dog-tired Nick Leddy, and no one has the energy to pick up Daniel at the backdoor. To wit: when your team’s game plan is to shut down the Sedins, and your players don’t have the energy to do it, you’re gonna lose.
Mikael Samuelsson’s game-winner (above) is another example of this energy discrepancy. For the second game in a row, the Sedins generate a goal on the first shift after a penalty kill, when they’re so fresh, they’re almost funky fresh. While some stars, like Jonathan Toews, play in all situations, the Sedins spend man disadvantages resting up. The added bonus to a killed penalty, then, is that the twins are never fresher than immediately afterwards.
The Sedins were on the ice for all three Canuck goals. The combined length of these three shifts? 53 seconds. It’s ironic that the Blackhawks are the team in red, because the Canucks are killing them with Big Red freshness.
The battle between Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews is one of this series’ great subplots. For the most part, Kesler’s been winning the battle, but Toews has been getting the best of him in the faceoff circle, especially on the left side, where Kesler is weaker, and Manny Malhotra typically steps in. Kesler lost five of eight defensive zone faceoffs to Toews tonight, with the most detrimental coming on the Blackhawks’ first period powerplay goal. Not only does Toews beat Kesler cleanly, but he draws him out of the shooting lane, giving Duncan Keith a clear path to the net. That said, that was the only mistake Kesler made on the Chicago captain on all game. Kesler also had six shots on net, three hits, three blocks, and over five minutes of shorthanded ice time. The guy is an absolute warrior. Really, he’s a few bicep tassels and a little multi-colour facepaint away from being The Ultimate Warrior.
Alex Burrows was the big minute man among Canuck forwards tonight, logging a team-high 19:53 over 33 shifts. Burrows was good with the Sedins, but his best work came on the penalty-kill. By golly, was he ever good.
The Canucks have been getting uncharacteristically killed in the faceoff circle for two games now. Their best faceoff man tonight was Mason Raymond. Enough said. Personally, that’s about all I thought Raymond was good for tonight, as he struggled to create much in the middle. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the silver lining to Raffi Torres’s impending suspension is that Cody Hodgson will likely draw back in.
What do John Scott and Dustin Byfuglien have in common? What is war good for? The answer to both questions is absolutely nothing. Joel Quenneville dressed Scott to inject some much-needed size into the Blackhawks lineup, but Scott, like most giants, wound up clumsily ruining everything. Scott played a game-low 5:20, and in that time, he managed to singlehandedly lose the special teams battle for the Blackhawks. His mere presence in a first period powerplay formation nullified a Hawks’ man advantage, and he later took a bad penalty that the Canucks needed all of four seconds to convert into a goal.
People have been quick to vilify Raffi Torres for his hit on Brent Seabrook, but let’s slow down a second here. Torres was whistled for a charge earlier in the game when he left his feet to make a hit; that was a dirtier hit. On Seabrook, he didn’t leave his feet, he didn’t charge, and he kept his elbow down. The penalty was called interference, but the puck was right there, so that’s not what it was, either. Frankly, Torres’s only crime is getting there too quickly, and if Brent Seabrook doesn’t have his head down, Torres hits him square in the chest, not the head, like he did to Tomas Kaberle or Tyler Myers. Unfortunately, Seabrook’s head was down, and Torres hits him square in the head, not the chest, like he did to Jordan Eberle. It won’t help Torres’s case that he’s fresh off a suspension; I’d say to expect another one.
Roberto Luongo bounced back in a big way tonight, making 30 saves. He seemed downright addicted to robbing Patrick Kane. After the game, he broke into Kane’s apartment and stole his pajamas.
Daniel Sedin had four hits in tonight’s game. Sure he did.
Keith Ballard only played nine minutes tonight. He looked a bit shaky at times, but nine minutes seems pretty low nonetheless. Mind you, Justin Timberlake and Madonna could save the world twice in that time, so what do I know?
The highlight of the night, in my opinion, wasn’t a goal or a save. It was a pass Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis made during a third-period penalty kill. Under pressure in the corner, Hamhuis put the puck blindly between his legs, right onto his partner’s stick, for an easy clear. Any other play and the Blackhawks hold the zone and keep applying pressure. This isn’t the first time Hamhuis has gone between the legs, by the way. The underduck is his go-to move at local swingsets.
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