The Chicago Blackhawks kicked off their Florida road trip by facing the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday evening.
With the Lightning sitting at third in league-wide standings, this match has been anticipated as an obstacle for the Blackhawks. Unfortunately, this was proved almost immediately when Tyler Johnson scored less than a minute into the game. In the following minutes, Johnson and his linemate, Brayden Point, would both score again.
But shortly after the first television timeout, Artem Anisimov ended an eleven-game goal drought by scoring on a play made by Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat. Waiting right in front of the net, Anisimov went high and put the Hawks on the board.
The success from the Hawks’ goal did not continue. Receiving a puck picked up in the neutral zone by Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Callahan raced Erik Gustafsson down the ice to take a shot at the net. He actually was able to use Gustafsson as a screen, making it easy to shoot past Corey Crawford, ending the period at 4-1 Tampa Bay.
Although less eventful, the second period was huge for the Blackhawks. The Hawks took a string of penalties in the beginning of the period, but were able to successfully handle and kill each one. This is pretty impressive, considering the Hawks special teams have been mediocre and that the Tampa Bay Lightning have the third best power play in the league. Not only were all three penalties killed, but they were played quite strongly and helped the Hawks regain their footing in this game.
Just as the period was about to expire, Jonathan Toews scored his eleventh goal of the season. Winning the face-off in the offensive zone, he set up in front of the net in order to put it in off a pass from Duncan Keith. This set the score 4-2 Tampa Bay. This would be the final score after a trying but scoreless third period.
With Blackhawks rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju a healthy scratch, it wasn’t surprising for the recurring defensive issues to be amplified in this game. For most of Tampa’s goals, the Blackhawks lacked coverage in the defensive zone, mostly due to poor communication and defensive decisions.
On multiple goals, Hawks players left their half of the zone in order to help out on the other side. However this left large areas completely unguarded, so while three Hawks would be on one opposing player, the rest of the offense was able to walk right up to the goal and score.
More on positioning, Erik Gustafsson in particular did not have a great game. On two goals, Tampa was able to use him as a screen for their own advantage. While it was unfortunate the first time, it was frustrating to see again just minutes later.
But while the Hawks fell in the end, there were a few good things to take away from this game. The special teams did significantly well and are making steady improvements from the beginning of the season. While they’re not perfect yet, they’re heading in the right direction. Assistant Coach Don Granato agreed, saying during the second intermission, “We were more composed in the second period… happy to see us kill three penalties in a pressure situation.”
While still a frustrating loss, this game certainly showed growth, both from the beginning of the season and from the beginning of the match itself. There is a lot of potential for this team to do well, but they must be able to perform for the full sixty minutes.
The Blackhawks will search for a win when the Florida road trip continues tonight against the Florida Panthers at 6:00 PM.
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