With Game 1 of the Western Conference Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks in the books, here are some quick reactions to the performance of the Blackhawks in Anaheim’s 4-1 victory on Sunday afternoon.
1. Stick to the Script
Even though the entire game didn’t bare this out, the Chicago Blackhawks were the better team throughout the first two periods of Game 1. They found themselves behind 2-1 through 40 minutes, but there really wasn’t much good reason for them to be behind. According to war-on-ice, the even strength corsi event totals were 50-29 in Chicago’s favor while the even strength scoring chance numbers were 18-12 for the Blackhawks.
There was a defensive lapse from the Blackhawks on Kyle Palmieri’s goal that put the Ducks up 2-0 in the 2nd, but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine Corey Crawford getting his blocker on Hampus Lindholm’s opening goal in the first. There was a screen in front of him, but it was mostly on his glove side. The puck didn’t have to go through any bodies before it hit the net.
Simply put, the Blackhawks game plan was working, even when they were down 2-0. They were outplaying the Ducks by every single metric outside of goals. Crawford wasn’t terrible, but he certainly wasn’t doing the Blackhawks any favors as his team fell behind 2-0 despite the fact that he had faced only 10 shots on net to that point.
If Crawford cleans his game up a little bit, which I fully expect him to, and the Blackhawks can keep dictating the flow of the games, don’t expect slow starts to be a recurring problem for the Blackhawks throughout this series.
2. Brad Comes Up Big
As the clock ticked down toward the end of the 2nd period, it seemed all but a certainty that Anaheim would be able to take a 2-0 lead into the locker room for the second intermission. This would have been less than ideal for the Blackhawks, as it would have meant that Anaheim could have gone into a shell in the third with a two goal lead, an endeavor which wouldn’t guarantee victory, but would have made it a much more likely prospect for the home team.
But as Francois Beauchemin looked to play the puck up to his forwards at his own blue line, playoff veteran Brad Richards ensured that this possibility wouldn’t come to fruition. With one hand on his stick, #91 in white challenged Beauchemin and forced him to cough the puck up. Richards then took it in alone and beat Andersen with a snap shot high to the stick side.
Goals that come in either in the first minute or the last minute of a period always get lots of emphasis from the talking heads, and for good reason. They are vital in creating confidence or momentum shifts at the end of a period or setting the tone for the remainder of the period. Even though it didn’t result in a win for Chicago, Brad Richards’ last minute tally in the 2nd was no different as it made their prospects of a comeback much more feasible.
3. A Defense Divided
One reason for concern that the Blackhawks may have as this series progresses is one that made itself very clear in their defeat in Game 1. While the Blackhawks may clearly have the better upper end defensemen when compared to the Ducks, Bruce Boudreau has a luxury that Joel Quenneville does not. The Ducks have six reliable defensemen that Boudreau can roll with great confidence. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, only have four.
Justified or not, Joel Quenneville just does not have much confidence in veteran Kimmo Timonen or youngster David Rundblad. This is readily evident in the ice time distribution of each team’s defensemen. For Chicago, it was Duncan Keith who played the most minutes amongst defensemen with 28:25. Anaheim’s number one defender, Francois Beauchemin, played just 23:21.
At the other end of the spectrum, David Rundblad was fifth in terms of TOI for the Blackhawks blueliners with 10:47. His Anaheim counterpart, Cam Fowler, played 17:27. Sixth most ice time for each team? Kimmo Timonen for Chicago with a measly 5:15, and Simon Despres for Anaheim with 15:46. That’s more time on ice for Anaheim’s #6 defenseman than for the leading scorer in this year’s playoffs, Corey Perry, who played just 15:17. That’s striking.
David Rundblad has played 7:06. Kimmo Timonen has played 4:02. Duncan Keith has played 18:45, Brent Seabrook has played 18:04. #Blackhawks
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) May 17, 2015
What does all of this mean? It means that by the time the third period rolls around, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are nearly spent. Nate Thompson’s third period goal that gave the Ducks a 3-1 advantage in the third was a result of a misplay from Duncan Keith that led to an odd-man rush for Anaheim.
For the Ducks, their top defensemen are much more rested for the third period. You didn’t notice Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, or Francois Beauchemin making fatigue-induced mistakes in the third period because they were fresh.
If Game 1 is any indication of the effect this may have on the Blackhawks’ hopes of coming out on top, it seems clear that Joel Quenneville will have to decide between Rundblad and Timonen and lean more heavily on one of them to help offset the overly heavy load on Keith and Seabrook. In my mind, I don’t see why Kimmo Timonen got as little ice time as he did. Rundblad, I understand, he made some errors and was partially responsible for the coverage breakdown on Anaheim’s second goal. Looking back on the game, no egregious errors from #44 spring to mind. In Rozsival’s absence, one of the two needs to step up as a reliable number five option for this defense.
So there you have it, my three observations when it comes to Chicago’s play in game 1. I wouldn’t be overly worried from Chicago’s perspective, but Anaheim’s solid performance today certainly erased any doubt that they would be a huge threat to unseat to the mighty Blackhawks. Let me know what you thought about today’s action in the comments.