Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010
By Chris Boden
As works of art go, it was more crayons-on-construction paper than Chagall. More finger painting than Van Gogh. But the beauty of Saturday night's 4-3 win over Buffalo was in the way the Blackhawks found a way. They loaded up their lunch bucket, rolled up their sleeves, and when it was time to punch the clock, they had themselves four points in 24 hours. That's one point more than they had in their first four games.
They went up against an expected Eastern playoff team that's struggled out of the gate, desperate for a win, and kept them down. Most of the game, the Blackhawks' offense that was poetry in motion last season struggled to just pass the puck. Clarification: Pass the puck to a teammate. They were outshot 41-21, not a common sight lately. And they'll have to be better this week, with three games against two teams anxious to prove something against the defending champs -- St. Louis Monday and Friday, sandwiched around Vancouver Wednesday.
The puck possession game and the big advantage in shots on goal that was one of their trademarks last season will take awhile to evolve until the new faces have more time to work together with the guys who've been in this system awhile. This first month that features 13 games in 24 days doesn't allow for a lot of practice time, either. Still, they found a way against a team they should've beaten Saturday night, creating some momentum they hope to build upon this week. Cup returnees set up and scored all four goals. Dave Bolland was stopped on a breakaway in the third, then tried a different move to score on another seven minutes later. Marian Hossa may be one of the NHL's leading scorers, but he also won an incredible battle with three Sabres for a puck in a corner during that third period.
After their three one-goal losses, let's see if that ugly, grinder victory gives them and the other newbies a template for how to get it done when the passes aren't clicking, the bounces and calls aren't going their way, and they're facing extra attackers in the final minutes. With the game on the line, Marty Turco was at his best, too.
There's something to be said about finding ways to win, and it's something this year's favorites like Vancouver and San Jose have to discover consistently. The Canucks went into Sunday night's game with Carolina 1-2-1 and struggling to score despite their depth and firepower. Then, watching San Jose at home versus Atlanta Saturday night, the Sharks jumped to a 2-0 lead, only to lose 4-2. Who helped lead the comeback against Antti Niemi and company? Andrew Ladd scored the first goal, short-handed, charging the net for a rebound and added an assist. Ladd leads the Thrashers with five points and is a plus-3. Dustin Byfuglien scored the game-winner on a power play. And oh, Brent Sopel was a plus-3 on the night. Byfuglien's goal came while Dany Heatley was in the penalty box. Patrick Marleau was sent off after that, hampering the Sharks' attempt to tie. Atlanta was playing the second of back-to-backs on the road.
Two other ex-Hawks are enjoying 4-0 starts with their respective teams: Adam Burish (0 points, plus-3) with Dallas, and Kris Versteeg (one goal, one assist) with Toronto. John Madden? Not so much (0 points, minus-5).
Sunday's demotion of 19-year-old Nick Leddy may indicate a couple of things. The Hawks are still managing the salary cap, unfortunately, and they might be looking for a little more muscle and "jam" against the Blues and Canucks. Leddy didn't seem to do anything too harmful his first six NHL games, and it's plain to see he's a big part of the future. Everyone's been impressed and liked, overall, what they've seen. Still, his Cap hit's over a million dollars, and Jassen Cullimore's is about half of that. Cullimore was drafted into the NHL the same year Leddy was born, but played pretty well Friday and Saturday in a year-and-a-half-long journey back to the NHL since his last game. That leaves three spots on the blueline, at least for this week, for Cullimore, Boynton, Hendry and Scott to battle for. It'll be two when Brian Campbell returns in about three weeks. And maybe one whenever the Hawks decide it's time to bring Leddy back up, no matter what he's making.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.