Here are my takeaways from the Chicago Blackhawks’ 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars last night:
A lot of firsts happened last night. For the first time in sixteen games, the Blackhawks did not give up a goal in the first period. This was also the first road game the Hawks have won since they defeated the St. Louis Blues on the road back in Oct. 5th. This was only their fifth road game win 26 tries. Last night’s win was also the Hawks’ first back-to-back games since Oct. 23 and 25, when they beat the Anaheim Ducks and the New York Rangers on home ice.
Gus is good
Erik Gustafsson had himself a really good game last night. He started the game saving a goal 15 seconds into puck drop, when a seemingly harmless shot on goal by Stars d-man John Klingberg somehow slipped through Cam Ward’s five hole. If it were not for Gustafsson being there, the Hawks would have started the game in a 1-0 early against a Dallas team with the second-best home record in the league.
From there, Gustafsson was a huge presence throught the game. He scored his eighth of the year during the man advantage in the first frame. He set up Patrick Kane’s empty-netter in the third. But more importantly, he played a very sound defensive game, considering he was on the ice primarily against the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line. Gus is obviously a more offensive-driven defenseman, but if he continues to become more responsible in the back end, he has the potential to become a borderline first-pair d-man for Chicago.
“You get a point! You get a point!”
Apart from Sunday night’s debacle against the San Jose Sharks, the Blackhawks have been enjoying some line and pairing consistency. Last night was no different. All four line were buzzing. All three defensive pairing were solid, jumping into plays when needed while still being responsible for their own coverage. Eight different skaters earned at least a point in last night’s game. Patrick Kane continued his dominance over the Stars, netting two goals and an assist last night. Kane has more goals against the Stars than any other opposing team.
Ward remains solid
After a commanding performance against the Nashville Predators this past Tuesday, Cam Ward turned in another great performance for the Blackhawks. Apart from a weird sequence where he actually whiffed while attempting cover the puck, he had a solid game. Since Tuesday, the Predators and the Stars have combined for 59 shots on goal against Ward, including 28 high-danger chances in 5-on-5 play. Throughout all of that, Ward only gave up three goals.
Delia should get a look
The Blackhawks are back at it tonight, finishing a two-game, back to back road trip against two Central Division rivals. Tonight they will face the Colorado Avalanche. Tne Avs are currently tied for the fifth most goals-per-game in the league with 3.5. They have one of the hottest top lines in the NHL right now with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
If this were last season, I wouldn’t have much faith the the Hawks can pull off a win. To be honest, there’s still some trepidation on my part that they can pull off the win tonight, considering the way this year has unfolded so far. But, the Blackhawks have been on a roll so far. They have three wins in five games, and have taken points in four consecutive. Last night, they beat the second-best home team in the league. And, unlike last season, they have more stability in net.
Which is why I believe that Colin Delia should start tonight against Colorado. Look, we don’t know how Corey Crawford’s situation will unravel. I think it is safe to say that whatever Stan Bowman’s trade deadline and off-season plans for the Blackhawks are, Crawford’s second concussion in as many years have definitely put a wrench in them. If Bowman plans to go through his Plan A and look for forward and back-end help, whether during the trade deadline or during the off-season, he would be best served if he finds what he has with Delia.
Delia was instrumental in the Rockford Ice Hogs’ deep run in the Calder Cup Finals last season, including a four-game sweep of the Manitoba Moose in the second round of the AHL playoffs. In 17 appearances in net this year, Delia has a 2.34 goals against average and a .933 save percentage, which actually paces all AHL goalies. He knows Jeremy Colliton, his old coach in Rockford, and is familiar with his system. I think the Hawks would be best served to look at what Delia can do in the NHL, and start developing his game in the big leagues.
With last night’s win, the Blackhawks improve to 12-19-6 and 30 points for the season, with 45 games left in the year. Their record is good for 29th the league and 8th in the Central. They are currently nine points out of the last wild card spot in the West, currently still held by the Edmonton Oilers.