On Saturday night, the Blackhawks were without two of their best players, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews.
It didn’t matter. They were playing the Nashville Predators, who are a bad hockey team.
Sure, the Hawks’ entire lineup was different because of the two key missing players, but the same team that took Vancouver for granted on Wednesday was dangerously close to making the same mistake just three days later. The Hawks skated 20 boring, mediocre minutes to start the game, and allowed Nashville to get 10 shots to Cristobal Huet.
Huet was up to the task in the first period, though. After one period of emotionless hockey, the scoreboard needed a cup of coffee to go with it’s two doughnuts.
The second period began with the same empty hockey from the Hawks. Chicago was dominating the game, but was doing nothing with their ownership of the puck. It wasn’t until someone reminded Dustin Byfuglien that standing in front of the net was an easy way to score that the Hawks finally got on the board. And then, less than a minute later, Andrew Ladd found the back of the net and the suddenly streaking Hawks were up 2-0.
There was a five minute window surrounding the two goals when the Hawks were playing good, physical hockey. The puck movement was crisp, and the defense was attacking the Predators, taking the puck away, and advancing the offense up the ice effectively.
Then Cam Barker, in all of his infinite wisdom, took a stupid penalty for roughing in front of the Nashville net. Once Barker planted his tail in the penalty box, the momentum the Hawks had finally found, and the spark they had created in the stands for the first time all night, was gone.
It would not return.
The second period ended with Huet having stopped every shot, and the Predators doing what they’ve consistently done all year: fail on a power play. Nashville came into the game with the worst power play conversion rate (nine percent) in the NHL. That number went down Saturday night.
The third period was 20 more minutes of Chicago and Nashville playing patty-cake. There was a lot of skating in circles, some passing, a couple hits, and a few shots on goal. Huet made a couple nice stops, but didn’t face a stiff rush all night.
There were a couple occassions in the second and third periods when Patrick Kane took a victory lap around the entire offensive zone before either passing or shooting. On both laps, he wasn’t touched. Nashville provided volumes of evidence to support their consideration for the title of worst team in the NHL.
What was disturbing about the final frame, though, was the lack of composure shown by the Blackhawks, specifically Byfuglien taking stupid penalties. He took two penalties, one for interference and the second for hooking, in the final eight minutes of the game.
Both penalties were completely unnecessary, but Nashville didn’t convert. Have I mentioned that the Predators are a bad hockey team yet?
Byfuglien wasn’t done with the antics, though. His second penalty expired with just four seconds left in the game. In a game the Hawks dominated with what appeared from the upper deck to be the bare minimum effort, for no good reason at all Byfuglien decided to skate right out of the box and light up a Nashville player. The skaters that were on the ice came together, exchanged phone numbers and dinner plans, and the game was over.
The Hawks won, and Byfuglien placed himself on top of the Nashville hit list for the next time these division opponents take the ice against each other.
Another sell out at the United Center was treated to a boring, mediocre hockey game that the Blackhawks won over, again, a bad hockey team. In fact, there were games three and four years ago with six or seven thousand fans that made more noise than Saturday night’s crowd.
It would be a mistake to not mention Huet’s performance, though. His greeting from the home fans was cool, if not cold, but her performed admirably. He stopped all 27 shots, and earned his first shut out of the season.
There were, however, at least six instances of the Predators having clear opportunities to score when they failed to execute. The Predators also failed on all three of their power plays.
The Predators are a bad hockey team.
At the end of the day, though, Huet got a much-needed boost to his confidence and the injured Hawks walked away with a win they needed. Did they earn it? Perhaps, but they certainly didn’t put forth their best effort. Indeed, if the Hawks play the same complacent hockey they did on Saturday against a decent veteran team, they’ll end up with another loss and more injured players.