The Chicago Blackhawks have been red hot to start 2016, thanks in part to Artem Anisimov, Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford. And all three were at their best in Nashville Tuesday night.
The Blackhawks rolled into town looking to add yet another milestone to their already impressive season. Just a few days removed from Coach Joel Quenneville’s rise to the second place spot on the all-time wins list, the Blackhawks added a franchise record 12th win to the list.
Two Teams, One Goal
The day started simply enough. Two teams came out with a very specific goal in mind. Only one of them would accomplish their task. For the Predators, the goal was to stop the Blackhawks from setting the record and hopefully stop Kane, Panarin, and Anisimov in the process.
For the Blackhawks, the goal was to win their 12th straight and remain the only team that is undefeated in 2016.
The Predators were unable to deliver on either count.
Though it wasn’t for a lack of effort as they outshot the Blackhawks by a margin of 39 to 27. Earlier in the day, the Predators had three names circled on the board in their dressing room. Kane, Panarin, and Anisimov.
The plan was to stop the Kane line and make the rest of the team work for their chances. A solid plan. One that a number of teams have employed. However, if Kane’s 26-game point streak is any indication, that is easier said than done. In fact, he has been held off the scoresheet a mere seven times all season.
The Art(em) of War
The Blackhawks started the game on their heels, looking very beatable as they were simply getting out hustled by the Preds. They were outshot 12-10, and it seemed like they spent the first 14 minutes in their own end.
Then, the momentum shifted with about six minutes remaining in the period, and suddenly the Blackhawks looked like the team that has been collecting wins since December.
With under 30 seconds remaining in the opening frame, the puck took an odd bounce off the partition and rolled right onto Kane’s waiting stick. He slipped a pass through a tiny sliver of ice to Panarin who corraled it in his skates until he could find a gap.
As soon as Panarin spotted that sliver of ice just wide enough to drop the puck through, he slid it across to Anisimov who was moving towards Pekka Rinne and slipped it right through the legs and under the netminder to open the scoring.
It was the kind of play you could try to recreate a hundred times and it’ll never happen just the same way again.
The next goal was a quick wrister from the newest Blackhawk, Richard Panik. It was his second in as many games. The young forward has quickly found some level of comfort with the Blackhawks in spite of the fact that he has yet to participate in a practice due to the number of games the Blackhawks have had on the schedule of late.
Unfortunately, with the same line on the ice moments later, Nashville was able to strike back. However, the Kane line was quick to recapture their two goal lead, and they never looked back.
The third goal came as Mattias Ekholm had a shot blocked that landed right at the feet of Duncan Keith. Panarin was wide open as he glanced toward open ice to see Kane on the move. He had less than a foot of space to slip the puck through to Kane who was moving towards the Preds zone with speed.
A miscalculation and either the puck ends up back in front of Crawford, or it’s iced.
Neither of those two scenarios factored in as Panarin caught the pass from Keith and promptly sent it up the ice to Kane with Ekholm pursuing. Kane was just a little bit too far ahead for Ekholm to make a play as he roofed the puck behind Rinne returning the Blackhawks two-goal margin. It was Kane’s 30th goal, which matches his previous career high.
Andrew Desjardins would add an empty net goal, but the game was already well in hand for the Blackhawks in spite of the fact that they were outshot 16-5 in the final frame. The Blackhawks are simply rolling, and they don’t seem to be showing any signs of letting up on the gas at the moment.
They face their Stanley Cup Finals opponent on Thursday as they look to add a 13th win, and follow that up with a trip to South Florida where they’ll face another team that had their own 12-game win streak going not too long ago in the Florida Panthers.
Crow On The Go
The Blackhawks have a lot of talent on their roster and consistently run four lines, all of which have the ability to contribute offensively, especially with the addition of Panik to the fourth line.
That is part of what makes them so difficult to stop. Like a three-headed monster, you may cut one head off, but that still leaves two more to inflict damage.
Add to that the fact that Crawford has been playing like he has a forcefield around his net most nights and the Blackhawks have found a recipe for success. The Blackhawks netminder is currrently carrying a perfect 9-0 record (a new career high win streak for Crow) with a .947 save percentage over the course of those nine starts.
There is an argument to be made for Crawford being the real most valuable player for the Blackhawks this year, and not even Kane would be likely to argue the netminders worthiness of such a distinction.
Without a doubt, this streak, like Kane’s earlier in the season will come to an end. However, the Blackhawks have certainly put the league on notice that the latest incarnation of the defending Stanley Cup Champions hasn’t skipped a beat, in spite of the deepest cap casualties they’ve faced in recent years. This team, continuosly finds ways to evolve and win big games no matter how many moving parts there were during the offseason.
Fun Fact: Two years ago to the day, the Blackhawks opened the lock-out shortened 2012-13 season with a record 24-game streak where they didn’t lose in regulation.