The trade deadline has passed, and so must the pleasantries.
Corey Crawford sucked on Wednesday night.
Ray Emery was fantastic, and the Blackhawks offensively fought back to beat a really, really bad Toronto Maple Leafs team 5-4.
Coming into the game, the Blackhawks needed a strong start from Crawford as the coaching staff figured out how to use newly acquired Johnny Oduya on the blue line, and to see where rookies Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig worked with the other forwards.
Crawford’s response to that challenge was giving up a goal less than 60 seconds into the game.
Shaw pumped the tires of his own bandwagon by tying the game just over ten minutes later on a nice play. After a trip to Rockford to “settle down” a little, Shaw returned with the strong play he showed early in his first call-up. He finished the night with the one goal, his sixth, one hit and one blocked shot in just over 12 minutes of ice time.
After Shaw tied the game, though, Crawford once again felt charitable. A power play goal to Joffrey Lupol and an even-strength goal by Clarke MacArthur blew the game open 3-1, and Crawford was struggling as much with rebounds as he was to grasp his confidence.
Perhaps the biggest play of the night – a play that might, somewhere down the road, ultimately mean the difference between playoffs and golf in mid-April – was late in the first period. Nick Leddy unloaded from the point, and Marcus Kruger redirected the shot past Jonas Gustavsson to draw the game back to 3-2 at the end of one.
Leddy had a solid evening before Dion Phaneuf tried to put him into the fourth row late in the third period. In just under 24 minutes, Leddy had two assists, one takeaway and put three shots on net on the night. Leddy was also plus-two in the game.
Similarly, Kruger played a very impressive game. He won six of 12 faceoffs and scored his eighth goal of the season. He was plus-one in the game, skating just under 18 minutes. But what was clear from ice level was that Kruger’s confidence with the puck and awareness of spacing on the ice is outstanding for a player his age and with the amount of experience he has after playing overseas to begin his career.
When the second period started, Ray Emery was in net. Or, as fans with eyes called it on Wednesday night, a strong dose of Zoloft for the United Center crowd.
Emery was great, stopping 23 of 24 shots, many of which were tough saves, and the offense came to life. Patrick Kane scored for the second time in as many games, and then Marian Hossa took over. He scored the Blackhawks fourth goal while being pulled down, and added an empty net score that became the game-winner.
There were so many questions about the Blackhawks skating five rookies (not including Leddy), but every one of them played a strong game.
We’ve already talked about Shaw and Kruger scoring the Hawks’ first two goals, but the other three rookies were good as well. Dylan Olsen was credited with three hits and one takeaway in 11:50 on the ice. In just 9:30, Jimmy Hayes had one hit and one shot on goal in the game.
And Brandon Bollig did exactly what he was asked to do. In 5:34 on Wednesday night (eight shifts), he had two shots on net, one hit, one blocked shot and this:
In total, the hopes of management (and the fans) that the youngsters would inject some energy into the lineup paid off against the Leafs.
But the money question will be answered in the next three games, all of which are on the road. Can the Blackhawks survive games in Ottawa, Detroit and St. Louis playing the way they did against Toronto?
The other new name on the roster, Johnny Oduya, had moments where he was clearly trying to learn his new teammates’ tendencies on the fly, but overall his performance was impressive. He skated 19:44 and was credited with three blocked shots and one takeaway in the game.
Finally, it would be bad form if I didn’t mention someone from the Hawks’ roster. Sami Lepisto played a fantastic 9:26 against Toronto. He was credited with two hits, one assist (on Kane’s goal), and made an incredible play to block a shot in front of a wide-open net while without a stick with under five minutes left in the game.
We’ve called out Lepisto throughout the season, as much in frustration that he’s been a ghost on the payroll for most the season and has made a few bad mistakes in his limited action. But since he’s joined the lineup on a somewhat-regular-basis in the absence of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador, he’s been very good. (Which begs the question: where has he been all year?)