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For the second straight week the Chicago Blackhawks finished their week 2-1-1 earning 5 out of 8 total points. If the Hawks can continue to earn 63% of their total points, they will end the season with 103 points; which should be more than enough to secure a playoff spot and maybe even home ice for the first round. More importantly, the Hawks are atop the Central Division and 2nd in the Western Conference — both good spots to be in right now. But the season is still young and anything can happen.

Three of the Blackhawks games went into overtime this week. The good news is that they won two of the three games that went into overtime — Nashville and Florida. The bad news is that in all three games the Hawks had leads that they lost late in the game to go into overtime. Granted that they won two of those games, but in the game against Tampa Bay they had a 4-2 lead in the 2nd period that they lost, only to lose in the OT period. Also, in letting the Nashville game go to OT gave the Predators a point in the standings. You don’t want to give your division opponents any points when you have the opportunity to win games in regulation. So while this week was good as far as the standings go, there are some disturbing trends that the team needs to work out to be serious playoff contenders this year.

As is his trend, Coach “Q” made some line changes. To open the season, the 1st line was Toews-Sharp-Burnette and the 2nd line was Kane-Hossa-Carcillo. Last week “Q” moved Sharp to the Kane line, dropped Carcillo to the 4th line and moved Victor Stalberg to the Toews line. The Toews line has seen a bit of a drop in production generating only 6 points of offense in the last four games (3G, 3A). The Kane line, however, has exploded this past week. That line has scored 6 goals (2 each by Kane, Sharp and Hossa) and notched 11 assists. Needless to say that trio currently leads the team in scoring. This is creating match-up problems with opposing coaches. Which line do you put your best checking line up against? If they start trying to shut down the Kane line, then the Toews line will start putting the puck into the net more. If not, then the Kane line will continue to destroy opposing goal tenders. This is what the game is all about — creating on-ice mismatches.

On to the games…

Monday, October 31, 2011 — Blackhawks 5, Predators 4 (OT): The Hawks won this game about halfway through the OT period when Victor Stalberg put a wrist shot past Pekke Rinne at the 2:18 mark to end the game. The game was a see-saw struggle between the two teams as they skated to a 1-1 tie in the first period on goals from Nashville’s Patric Hornqvist (3) and Chicago’s Patrick Kane (3). The teams traded goals in the second period with the Predators taking a 2-1 lead 6:00 into the period on Craig Smith’s (4) wrister past Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks tying the game again on Nick Leddy’s second goal of the season at the 11:51 mark. The Predators went into the second intermission with a 3-2 lead when Hornqvist scored his second goal of the game on the power play with 1:12 left in the second. Chicago opened the third period with two unanswered goals to take a 4-3 lead on Kane’s second goal of the evening and Bryan Bickell’s (3) wrist shot at 13:08 in the third. It looked like the Hawks would skate to the victory, but Nashville’s David Legwand had other plans as he buried a shot past Crawford with 5:11 to go in regulation. As noted earlier, Stalberg scored the game winner in OT, but the Hawks gave Nashville a point in the standings with the tie. The Hawks power play woes continued this game as they were 0-for-7 with the man advantage. The Predators were 1-for-3 on the power play. Crawford got the win, but he blocked 24 out of 28 shots for a lackluster 86% save percentage.

Thursday, November 3, 2011 — Blackhawks 3, Panthers 2 (SO): Second game of the week, second OT game, second time the Hawks let a lead slip through their collective fingers. The Hawks shot out to a 2-0 lead with goals by captain Jonathan Toews (5) at 4:04 in the 1st and Marian Hossa (6) at 4:51 in the 2nd. Everything was going according to plan until the Panthers’ Stephen Weiss (5) snapped Crawford’s shutout attempt with a late 2nd period goal. It still looked like Chicago would win the game in regulation, but another late period goal, this time by Ed Jovanovski (2) with 2:04 to go in regulation, meant another OT game. Both teams couldn’t settle matters in the OT period, so it came down to a shootout. Both goalies stoned each team’s first two shootout attempts. Crawford denied Florida’s Tomas Fleischmann for his third straight save and Patrick Kane netted the game winner on Chicago’s 3rd attempt. Both teams were 0-for-1 on the power play. Corey Crawford redeemed himself from the last game by blocking 41 of 43 shots against him as the Hawks were out shot by Florida 43-33.

Friday, November 4, 2011 — Lightning 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT): It looked like this game might be a defensive struggle as both teams skated to a scoreless tie in the 1st period. But then the fireworks began in the 2nd period as both teams exploded for four goals in the period. It was the Steven Stamkos show as the young phenom scored a hat trick in the period, including what would eventually be the game-tying goal with 0:33 left to go in the period on a PPG. The other Tampa Bay goal was scored by Brett Connolly (2) to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead 5:00 minutes into the period. The first Chicago goal was scored by Patrick Sharp (4) on the power play, ending Chicago’s PP drought. After Tampa Bay went up 2-1, the Hawks scored three unanswered goals — Marian Hossa (7), Daniel Carcillo (1), and Patrick Sharp’s (5) second goal of the night — in just over a minute to go up 4-2 with 12:38 to play in the 2nd. It looked like the Hawks might be skating to a blowout when Stamkos (9) completed the hat trick with two goals to close out the period. The game ended like it began with a scoreless 3rd. It appeared that the game might to a shootout when Vincent Lecavalier put the game winner past Ray Emery on a beautiful one-timer from Martin St. Louis to win the game. Chicago was 1-for-2 on the PP, but was 0-for-1 on the PK. Emery suffered his first loss in a Hawks’ uniform blocking only 27 of 32 shots against him.

Sunday, November 6, 2011 — Canucks 6, Blackhawks 2: This game marked a rematch between two teams that have come to hate each other over the past three seasons. The Hawks gave Vancouver all they could handle in the first round of the playoff last year forcing a game 7 after the Canucks went up 3-0. You would think a game against a hated rival at home after a days rest would motivate the Hawks to play much better than they have the past couple of games. You would be wrong. Chicago came out flat and stayed flat this game. It looked like it might be close after both teams entered the first intermission tied at 1 on goals by Vancouver’s David Booth (1) on the PP and Chicago’s Michael Frolik (3). Then all heck broke loos in the 2nd period as the Canucks scored four goals (three on the PP) to take a 5-2 lead into the 3rd. Vancouver goals were scored by Aaron Rome (1), Daniel Sedin (6), Jannik Hansen (2) and Dan Hamhuis (2). Nestled in between this four goal onslaught was a goal by Marcus Kruger (2) to make it look close. The Canucks added another PP goal in the 3rd from the other Sedin twin, Henrik (5), to close out the scoring for the night. There isn’t really much to say about this game. The Blackhawks had their butts handed to them by a team that was struggling so far this season. The Hawks’ PK was awful; they allowed 5 PP goals on 6 PP opportunities. On the other side of the ledger, the Hawks reverted back to their own PP woes going 0-for-5 on their own PP chances. It’s hard to blame Crawford for this game. When both teams were even strength, he out played his counterpart Roberto Luongo. But when you give a team like Vancouver six PP opportunities, you’re asking for trouble. The Hawks did and Vancouver made them pay — FIVE TIMES.

It was still a good week for Chicago even though the week ended with two losses. The Hawks are still in a good position, but they need to play tighter against teams like Vancouver if they want to get out of the Western Conference playoffs. This week should be a little easier for Chicago as they play three struggling teams in the St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames before hosting the resurgent Edmonton Oilers next Sunday.

GO HAWKS!!!

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