Blackhawks’ strong play continues as they roll over the Capitals - New York News

Blackhawks’ strong play continues as they roll over the Capitals 5-2

Updated: Mar 19, 2012 10:32 AM CDT
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

In front of 21,561 delighted fans, the Blackhawks disposed of the Washington Capitals 5-2 Sunday night. The Hawks have gone 7-1-1 over their last nine games and are looking like a playoff force. They were in control on Sunday from the opening puck drop, and for much of the game, the Capitals appeared overmatched.

Maybe it took the loss of Jonathan Toews for the Blackhawks to play effective hockey. Possibly the lessons head coach Joel Quenneville have been preaching for months are now hitting home. Finally, the Hawks have been as concerned about preventing goals as scoring them. Whatever the reason or reasons, the Blackhawks are playing their best hockey at the right time.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Quenneville finally looks like he has a solid checking line in place. Dave Bolland is in fine form and Bryan Bickell has finally regained his form of last season. The addition of rookie Andrew Shaw to the third line brings some physicality and helps the Hawks keep things simple.

The Bolland line was responsible for checking Alex Ovechkin and his mates and the Hawks won that battle in a big way. Ovechkin did score a highlight reel goal, but Hawks checking line wasn't on the ice. Bickell, Bolland and Shaw not only contained the Capitals attack, they also accounted for three Blackhawks goals. Shaw picked up two markers and an assist on Sunday and Bickell added an empty-net tally.

Shaw's play exemplifies the value of playing simple hockey.

Shaw knows his role and always seems to be around the puck. The rookie winger puts himself in position to score because he goes to the net. At 5'10" and 185 pounds, Shaw isn't a big player, but plays much bigger than his size. He has nice hands and is fearless. Those attributes have helped him score quite often.

In only 28 games, Shaw has notched nine goals while picking up six assists. He crashes and bangs and causes havoc for the opposing goal keeper. Shaw has helped the offense and also has held his own defensively. He has been a pleasant surprise this season. It also seems with the emergence of Shaw, the Blackhawks have become a more difficult team to play against.

Toews missed his 13th consecutive match on Sunday.

With Toews on the sidelines, Patrick Kane has embraced moving back to the center position and is playing his finest hockey of the year. Against the Capitals, Kane recorded his sixth goal in the last 10 games and was the best player on the ice.

Kane is not only a force when he has the puck but also has been solid defensively. Not only Kane, but the entire team has checked better and won board battles. These days, the Blackhawks aren't hell bent on playing jail-break hockey, but rather seem more in control.

Corey Crawford was fine Sunday night but he wasn't relied on to save the day. Except for some sloppy play in the middle period, the Hawks controlled the Capitals and Crawford had enough help.

On the offensive side, the Blackhawks were generating a lot of traffic near the Washington net, which was great to see. The team that was often too fixated on generating scoring chances with pretty plays is now focused on doing the dirty work.

The Blackhawks can still be exciting to watch, as Viktor Stalberg electrified the crowd with his speed and beat Caps goal tender Michal Neuvirth for his 18th marker of the season. Stalberg used his speed to blow by defenseman Dmitry Orlov and most importantly was able to finish the play with a goal.

During their latest run, the Blackhawks have defeated some quality opponents. Now they will have an opportunity to pick on the weakest club in the NHL. The Hawks will take to the road for a Tuesday night contest in Columbus.

Chicago has dominated the Blue Jackets this season, but this game will represent an interesting challenge. The Hawks are coming off three big wins and after facing the Jackets will square off against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday. So the short road trip to Columbus can be characterized as a "trap" game.

The Blue Jackets have the worst record in the league and are some 35 points below the Hawks in the standings. That said, the Jackets are still a professional team. So if the Hawks are mentally absent and not dialed in, they can easily squander points.

With the only back-to-back games left in the regular season coming up this Tuesday and Wednesday, Quenneville will have a goal tending decision to make.

Normally Coach Q. doesn't like to change a winning lineup, but it wouldn't be a shock if Ray Emery got the call Tuesday in Columbus. If Quenneville likes the way Crawford has been playing, he may want him to face Vancouver at the United Center on Wednesday.

In any case the Hawks will want to stay focused against Columbus and avoid the temptation of looking ahead to the hated Canucks.

Al's Shots

No news is not good news concerning the injuries to Toews, Steve Montador and Sami Lepisto. Unfortunately, that is the case.

By design it would be good if all three could come back to play in at least four or five games before the playoffs begin. At this point, it would not be a shock if all three were unable to play again in the regular season.

There isn't an accurate recovery timeline in the case of the suspected concussions for Montador and Toews. That's the stark reality. 

Lepisto has an apparent leg injury and hasn't begun to skate, so his return isn't imminent.

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