The Blackhawks have been here before… twice; and both times it was the Vancouver Canucks, who looked great in game one and lost in six games. Even more encouraging for the Hawks fans is that for the final 40 minutes of game one it was the visitors who controlled the play. Despite the the final 40, however we all know that these two teams are very different from their 2009 and 2010 Stanley Cup Playoff teams. Dustin Byfuglien isn’t going to save the day, but the Blackhawks can still win this series.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Hawks fans is that the Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Patrick Kane line is back together. There has been much debate over whether or not “Sharpie” is better used as the second line center as he was most of last season or if he should be matched with Kane and Toews as he has been for most of their careers. The three together are easily one of the top five lines in the league, and Sharp while willing to be the good soldier and center the second line has been much more effective on the wing. Look at his goal totals and shooting percentage in 08/09 and 10/11 when he played primarily with the Toews and Kane. In 61 games in 08/09 Sharp had 26 goals and a 14.1 S%, in 10/11 Sharp dressed for 74 games and put up 34 goals on a 12.7 S%. Last season, often spent centering the second line Sharp put up 25 goals in 82 games and a S% of only 9.4%. There are only two ways the Hawks are going to get a puck behind Roberto Luongo; either a dirty goal off of a scrum or a rebound; or pretty passing play resulting in a tap in like the one Brian Campbell failed to elevate on Wednesday. The Toews, Kane, Sharp line is the combination of players most likely to score a pretty goal on Luongo.
Getting a dirty goal will be much harder now that Tomas Kopecky is hurt. Troy Brouwer would be another possible threat to score but he is returning from injury and before he was hurt seemed to forget how to score. Brouwer put up his 17th goal on February16th and looked well on his way to passing his career high of 22 set the year before. He put up 0 goals and 3 assists over his final 22 games before missing the final weekend of the season with an injury. If he can somehow find his game again Brouwer could be the difference the rest of the way for the Blackhawks.
As for the lack of physical play for the Blackhawks this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Adam Burish, Ben Eager, and Andrew Ladd were replaced with Viktor Stalberg, Fernado Pisani and Bryan Bickell. They simply aren’t the same type of players and asking them to fill those rolls is foolhardy. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be effective players, they are more talented offensively than the trio they replaced. They won’t be able to be a typical energy line running around hitting everything that moves but they can provide a spark with the speed and an unexpected goal.
The idea of dressing John Scott to either fill the Byfuglien roll or to act as a deterrent for some of Vancouver’s post whistle shenanigans is a bad one. Scott simply can’t skate with the Canucks, and doesn’t have the hands to fill Byfuglien’s spot in front of Luongo. Were he to dress the most likely way he would impact the game would be to put Vancouver on the power play, which at best is a really bad idea.