In two games this week against teams from the state of New York, the Blackhawks have put 81 shots on net. Unfortunately, only three have made their way past the opposing goaltender.
On Friday night in Buffalo, former Hawks’ netminder Patrick Lalime became the last backup goaltender in the NHL to earn a victory as he shut down Chicago’s offense for the 2-1 victory. Lalime, like the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist on Wednesday night, played his best game of the season, stopping 39 of the Blackhawks 40 shots.
Not all of the credit can be given to Lalime, though.
After coming out of the dressing room with a furious start to the first period, the Hawks started to get sloppy. From the mid point of the first period through the second, the Hawks have a number of uncharacteristically bad passes, soft hits, and were losing pucks in the corners and neutral ice that they shouldn’t have lost. The Hawks also struggled, again, in five-on-five play; they have now scored just two goals in their last seven games in even strength skating.
Cristobal Huet allowed two goals on 33 shots, well above the Hawks’ season average for shots allowed, and played well throughout. Buffalo’s first goal, by Thomas Vanek, came on the power play. Their second, credited to Clarke MacArthur, was redirected past Huet. Both came during a second period in which the Hawks were flat and it showed in the game stats; the Sabres outshot the Hawks 17-7, and drew two penalties in the second.
The Hawks got on the board with a Patrick Sharp goal just 30 seconds into the third period after a great series of plays. Niklas Hjalmarsson separated a Buffalo player from the puck on the boards, and Dustin Byfuglien took control in traffic. Byfuglien dropped the puck to Patrick Kane just to Lalime’s right, and he flipped a pretty backhand pass through two defenders to an open Sharp for the tally.
Vanek, MacArthur and Sharp all scored their ninth goals of the season on Friday night.
In the end, silly mistakes were the death of the Hawks. The defense was fighting well in the third, allowing only five shots on goal, but a number of critical penalties ultimately ended the game. The hardest penalty to stomach was on Duncan Keith with under two minutes left, a hooking call that was questionable and ended the Hawks’ ability to skate with an advantage in an effort to get a tying goal.
Keith put six shots on net for the Hawks, while Jonathan Toews and Kane were credited with seven shots each to lead the Hawks’ attack.
After the game, coach Joel Quenneville said there would be more experimenting with the Hawks’ lines in an effort to increase production in the coming games. In the third period, Quenneville made a number of changes, including moving Byfuglien onto a line with Kane and Sharp that worked out for the Hawks’ lone goal. Troy Brouwer bumped up to skate with Marian Hossa and Toews in the third as well.
Since Hossa’s entry to the Hawks’ lineup, the offense has struggled. In the seven games since putting up seven goals in San Jose, the Hawks have played in four overtimes and have only scored more than two goals once. There was concern that adding the talented Hossa to the mix would upset the apple cart, and after the San Jose game most fears were relieved. It now appears that perhaps the relaxation was premature, and now Quenneville and his coaching staff are scratching their heads trying to find a way to get the puck into the net consistently.