I’m not sure even Robocop could have given Detroit a chance on Sunday.
In the first game between hated rivals in two months, the improved Blackhawks defeated the injury-depleted Red Wings 3-0 in front of another United Center-best crowd. Even though Detroit had won four straight before losing to Dallas on Saturday, the Hawks dominated every aspect of the game on Sunday night and made a strong statement that the Central Division crown will be won coming through Chicago this year.
From the first chant of “Detroit Sucks,” the crowd was ready to witness perhaps the first game in 15 years in which the Blackhawks were clearly the better team in the building. However, the excitement and chanting developed a subtle curiosity as the Hawks kept Detroit from getting a single shot on net for over 12 minutes in the first period. The puck control and suffocating defense from Chicago in the first period was as good as I’ve seen certainly this season, and was perhaps the best from any Hawks team against Detroit in a generation.
Cristobal Huet only needed to stop five shots in the first period, and ended the day keeping all 20 shots he faced out of the net for his second straight 3-0 shutout victory. Of those 20 shots, though, Huet wasn’t asked to make too many tough saves because of the exceptional defense played in front of him.
After Todd Bertuzzi took Detroit’s second penalty of the first period for hooking Jonathan Toews on a breakaway, the party started for the Hawks offense when Duncan Keith launched a missile from the blue line that found the net behind Chris Osgood. There was good traffic in front of Osgood, but I’m not sure he ever saw the puck coming off Keith’s stick. A case could be made that Toews, who was clearly in front of Bertuzzi, should have been awarded a penalty shot, but the goal coming on the subsequent power play erased any issues with the call as the game was over.
Well, there were still 52 minutes of hockey to be played, but for Detroit it only went downhill from there.
Just over 16 minutes into the second period a streaking Brian Campbell scored his third goal of the season off nice puck movement from Andrew Ladd and Patrick Sharp. Earlier this week, coach Joel Quenneville told Campbell to look for his shot more, and it’s paid off; Campbell has now scored in consecutive goals after his only other goal coming overseas in the second game of the season.
On Friday, Sharp, Kris Versteeg and Jonathan Toews that joined Patrick Kane atop the team ranks with 10 goals. Sunday, Dustin Byfuglien joined the 10-goal club with just over 30 seconds left in the second period, closing the scoring for the night. Byfuglien and Troy Brouwer led the team with three hits each as the Hawks dominated almost every aspect of the box score.
John Madden, a University of Michigan grad, played a strong game with an assist and winning 10 of 14 faceoffs in the game. Toews won nine of 14 faceoffs, and Sharp won seven of 11 as the Blackhawks took control of the puck once it hit the ice and rarely gave it over to Detroit.
On Tuesday night, the Blackhawks host San Jose before playing in Detroit on Wednesday. With Huet and the rest of the Blackhawks’ defense dominating right now, there could be a significant distance between the Hawks and third place Red Wings when 2010 begins. The shutout was the sixth of the season for the Hawks, which leads the NHL.
The roster had two items of note on Sunday, as Ben Eager missed a second game because of continued issues with post-concussion headaches. Bryan Bickell played nine good minutes, being credited with one hit and three shots on goal, in Eager’s place. Also out on Sunday was Cam Barker, who was resting a banged up knee that cost him the third period on Wednesday. Jordan Hendry played another good game, this time in place of Barker.