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At the outset of this Road Trip, that we’ve all been nervously eyeing for months, the general consesus was that eight points out of the six games would represent an excellent return. Well, with only the game in Glendale to come, the Hawks are at that mark already and, more importantly, have negotiated the Californians with only a SO loss in San Jose to rue. Granted, it’s helped that the three teams at the top of the Pacific Division have chosen this moment to hit slumps of their own, but it’s with a sense of relief and a hurdle negotiated that the Hawks can turn to Arizona and then either Sochi or nearly three weeks off before they arrive at MSG on the 27th.

Interestingly, the Hawks have done this without ever really coming out of Second Gear (aside, perhaps, from that 2nd Period demolition of Vancouver). There is still plenty more to be had from this team, which is a cheering thought provided, of course, that they can find that other gear in the run in to the Post season. However, if you want signs of that occuring, look no further than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane rising from troughs of their own and the continued merciless form of Marian Hossa.  Provided that the Olympics pass without incident,  Hawks fans should be looking forward to the remaining schedule and the rest of the contenders should be feeling somewhat nervous.

As for last night, although far from a classic, it was a dominant performance from the Hawks, abetted by a thoroughly anonymous and disinterested one from the Ducks. Corey Crawford blanked all 29 shots that he saw to record his first shutout of the season but, in all honesty, you feel that if the game was still going on the Ducks wouldn’t have scored yet. Their big guns were largely conspicuous only by their absence: Perry & Getzlaf disappeared for long stetches, we were further reminded that Selanne & Koivu have probably gone a season too far and Dustin Penner allegedly laced up his skates last night, although I’m struggling to recall seeing his ugly ass out there.

The biggest danger to the Hawks was their propensity for taking dumb penalties. Both of Shaw’s were stupid in the extreme and the first, a hook on Sami Vatenen, happened behind Hiller’s net. Brent Seabrook compounded the problem a minute later by tripping Kyle Palmeri putting the Hawks down two men for an entire minute. They killed it with aplomb, and 40 seconds into the 2nd, Marian Hossa capitalised on some smart passing by Michal Roszival and Patrick Sharp to give the Hawks a lead that they never really looked like relinquishing. Another Shaw penalty and then a four minute high-sticking minor to Roszival late in the period were killed off and Toews iced the game with less than three to go in the 3rd with a sharp wrister off a Hossa feed.  Even Selanne couldn’t manage his customary annoying goal to kill the shutout bid (and you were all waiting for it, weren’t you? Admit it!) and that was all she wrote.

Talking points:

  • Bryan Bickell played a fine game, including a great interception to prevent a Ducks odd-man rush. He still got a team-lowest TOI, although the ice-time totals were obviously skewed by the penalties. He looks sharper and more confident which is likely as much to do as returning to full health and rounding into form as any alleged “Motivation” from his benchings. I’m expecting a rested and fired-up Bingo after the Olympic break.
  • Brandon Bollig was a passenger for most of the night.
  • Michal Handzus rotated into the lineup in place of Brandon Pirri for whatever reason that Q came up with in the night. Which actually worked out alright, as he spent a good chunk of his TOI killing penalties, which he is very good at.
  • Johnny Oduya missed out due to an undisclosed (of course) “Lower Body Injury’ (natch). Apparently it’s nothing serious but for all we know he’s being fitted for bionic legs as we speak. Sheldon Brookbank paired up with Hjalmarsson and did fine.
  • On the subject of Hjalmarsson, I’ve started watching him carefully as he plays in the Offensive Zone: his attacking capabilities and awareness have improved dramatically. He stays mobile, looking for lanes and is getting his shots away faster. If he continues to improve his offensive upside this way, that contract is going to be the steal of the century.
  • While we’re talking about steals, Nick Leddy gave a reminder to Minnesota fans who are pooh-poohing his value (really, some are) of just what he can bring. Nick Bonino thought he was on a breakaway but Leddy came scorching back to snuff him out. There are very, very few Defensemen in the league with the wheels to do that and Leddy is one of them.
  • The PK was, as we have observed, spot on all night. The Powerplay, not so much. I’ll still trade an effective kill for a fully-functioning PP, but both would be nice, hey?
  • Marian Hossa is a Beast. The “Maintainence Days” strategy appears to be working, so hats off to Q for that.
  • The Honda Center was full  of Hawks fans and empty seats last night. Not poking fun, because no Chicago fan should, but it seemed strange that a clash between the leaders and the reigning champs didn’t draw better (And while I’m on this subject, Chicago people really need to stop pointing out that the Seahawks’ Victory Rally had less than half the number of people attending than the Blakhawks’s last summer: Seattle also has 1/5th of the population of Chicago, so do the math and shut up)

Ok, just the ever-detestable Yotes to go before the break.  Depending how that shakes out and whether or not the Ducks can snap their skid in Nashville on Saturday, the Hawks could be back on top of the standings by the time the charters leave for Sochi.  You surely would have taken that, last week.