Game in a Sentence
Even after their top scorer went down with an injury against an opponent bolstered by the return of their captain, the Phoenix Coyotes got the job done against the Chicago Blackhawks and took game one in (gasp) overtime.
-First and foremost it’s great to have Jonathon Toews back and playing hockey. I have had this conversation with many people but if I was to magically start a franchise and had to pick one guy from any team to start it (Crosby excluded – NBA Jam rules, no Jordan or Shaq) it would be Toews. He’s your cliché laden hockey folklore type of guy who is the true heart and soul of a team. He had two points tonight. He will be big so long as he’s healthy and playing for the Blackhawks this postseason.
-On to underrated guys, Martin Hanzal is actually quite as solid little (read: really big) hockey player that has been toiling away in obscurity. I’ve been harping on the concept of good two-way centres over the last 36 hours and I would have no problem putting Hanzal in the second tier of two-way guys beneath the Kesler-Bergeron-Datsyuk level. He’s a very good player and ideally this goal will have people take a longer, harder look at him.
-More on underrated Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, same deal. A few weeks ago in a blog post I asked Backhand Shelfers who their next great young defenceman was and a commenter dropped Ekman-Larsson’s name. My reaction? Hell yeah he is. Obviously he has the benefit of playing in a much more restricted system than most, but he is flourishing and this playoff season could be his coming out party. Like Hanzal above, Ekman-Larsson may not be on the Karlsson-Doughty level of skill but I’d happily put him with in the P.K. Subban caliber of young defenders.
-I thought Chicago’s top guys all made themselves visible tonight which should encourage the Blackhawks; they just need to focus more on capitalizing against a Phoenix team which won’t give them a ton of golden opportunities. One instance in my mind is a Marian Hossa-Toews 2-on-1 play in which Hossa had a wide open top half of the net and put it into the stands. You have to make that one count.
-One detractor in the above Chicago star group that I’m having trouble with is Patrick Kane. All season long and into these playoffs I’ve just wanted to see more from Kane. Show us why you were taken first overall. Show us why you’re the top dog offensively. Take a damn game over. For whatever reason he just seems to be playing without that edge we saw a couple years ago. I would really like to see that again.
-Speaking of proving “why” – Mike Smith is showing the world why he was the key piece in the Brad Richards to Dallas deal. Unfortunately for Tampa he didn’t show it there. He’s the hottest goalie on skates right now having only allowed one goal in his final four regular season games before turning aside 43 tonight. The guy is in pure tunnel vision mode right now which is a scary thought since his size alone makes him hard to beat. Joseph Casciaro – the brilliant mind behind “A Cup of Joe in the Morning” here on Backhand Shelf and one of the editors of theScore’s Raptorblog – and I shared a chuckle tonight at the thought that as things stand Mike Smith and Brian Elliott could be in the conversation of starting Canadian Olympic goalies in Sochi, Russia. Seriously, wrap your mind around that one.
-Related goaltender thought: The good Corey Crawford showed up tonight and made several stops, just not enough to top a guy who is playing other-worldly hockey right now. A good sign for Chicago if Crawford is on his game, it just needs to stay that way. The balancing act between he and Emery this season was painful at times and one needed to establish himself before the postseason. Time to see how far Crawford can take them.
-All in all the Coyotes fought hard to win this game and overcame points in which the Blackhawks fully dictated the play. While I picked the Coyotes to win this series, my primary concern for them was whether or not they have the sheer talent to win. They are deep but short on game breakers beyond Smith between the pipes. They pulled it off with their backs up against it late after what could have been a crippling tying goal for their momentum. Color me impressed.
-Giddy hockey fan thought: Antoine Vermette’s goal = Laser beam. Wow.
-Cynical hockey fan thought: A note for teams wanting to do a “Whiteout” – as I pointed out on twitter, these were much more effective gimmicks when the home team wore white. Perhaps it’s time to pick a more relevant color, though I don’t imagine Phoenix’s primary shade of red(?) would look too good if it covered a rink.
-If game two is the same, awesome.
My Three Stars: