Ah, the Circus Trip.
Not only are the Blackhawks gone until December, but they get to start their annual Thanksgiving road trip against one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League, the Calgary Flames.
Coming into Thursday night’s game, the Flames had only allowed more than two goals once in November, and had a 5-1-1 record to show for it. During that stretch, Calgary goaltender Mikka Kipprusoff has been exceptional; he had saved at least 95 percent in each of his starts until Tuesday, when he allowed three goals on 24 shots to Colorado.
Kipprusoff was emerging as one of the better netminders in the Western Conference during this stretch as well. Despite the infamous 6-5 overtime loss in Chicago in October, he ranked 10th in the NHL in save percentage, 12th in goals against average, and his 11 wins was just one behind the league leaders.
Also red hot for the Flames was their senior leader, Jerome Iginla. His 12 goals were good for the top 10 in the NHL coming as well.
Not only were the Flames playing well, and at home, but they undoubtedly wanted to get the bad taste of the October game out of their mouths coming into Thursday’s game.
Now that we’ve put all that on the table, forget it all. The Blackhawks blew out the Flames as though they were candles on Patrick Kane’s birthday cake.
How bad did it get for Calgary? With four minutes left, the house organist busted out “Always look at the bright side of life.”
While the scoring will undoubtedly steal the headlines from most of the media, and rightly so, it would be a mistake to ignore a magnificent effort from Cristobal Huet. Against a very good offensive team, Huet made the average saves, the special saves, and the clutch saves to back up another great defensive effort.
On Patrick Kane’s 21st birthday, he notched the first goal he can legally celebrate with a cocktail and also had an incredible assist on Kris Versteeg’s second goal of the night as the Blackhawks absolutely dumped on the Flames from the middle of the first period until the final horn.
Troy Brouwer continued his stretch of perhaps the best hockey of his professional career, scoring his sixth goal in a flurry of putbacks in the first period to give the Hawks the lead. After Olli Jokinen tied the game with a power play goal less than a minute into the second period, the game ended for Calgary.
Less than 40 seconds after Jokinen’s goal, Niklas Hjalmarsson lit up former Hawks Renee Bourque like a Christmas tree. He drew a minor penalty on Nigel Dawes, which opened the flood gates. Versteeg scored his first goal on that power play, and the downward slide became fast and pathetic for the Flames.
Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd both scored on breakaways before Kane and Versteeg scored to finish off a second period in which the Hawks outscored the Flames by a 5-1 margin.
Oh, and Ben Eager scored his first goal of the season in the third to make the final score 7-1.
Thursday night’s performance should go a long way to give the Hawks a lot of confidence as they continue on this long trip. Their power play had been struggling (one of the few aspects of their game that had been subpar), but they fixed that fairly well on Thursday; the Hawks scored on each of their first four power plays.
Also important coming away from Thursday is that, in a physical game that wasn’t very competitive on the scoreboard, the Hawks appeared to leave the ice healthy. The Flames didn’t finish any cheapshots on Hjalmarsson or any other Hawks despite their frustration from being embarrassed again.
Huet stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced in the game, the Blackhawks successfully killed four of five penalties, and spread the wealth in the scoring again. Only Brent Sopel, Jonathan Toews, John Madden, Brian Bickelland Colin Fraser didn’t score at least one point in the game, with Duncan Keith leading the way with three assists to earn Number One Star honors.
Toews might not have scored, but he continued to be an elite player in the circle. The Blackhawks young captain won 11 of 15 faceoffs to lead the Blackhawks. Madden won 13 of 25 faceoffs on the night. Fraser lost another fight, his fourth in his last four games.