Earlier this week I said that Chicago firing Denis Savard in favor of Joel Quenneville was a dumb move. Quenneville has a history of coaching poorly against division rival Detroit and I figured if you’re not good enough to coach that Avs team (weak goaltending aside) into the playoffs, then you can’t be THAT good.
Two convincing Chicago wins later, I am rethinking that stance.
For those of you that aspire to be NHL coaches one day, get a video of tonight’s Chicago/Edmonton game. For 60 minutes, Quenneville’s team played a game that was so exquisitely coached in every zone that Edmonton, despite being a very talented team on a decent roll, looked like a middle-of-the-road AHL team. The ‘Hawks skated away with an effortless 3-0 win.
Now, I say effortless because Chicago made everything tonight look incredibly easy. But the effort for Quenneville and his boys was clearly put in on the practice rink. The forecheck was brilliant, either forcing turnovers or at the very least forcing the Edmonton breakout back down low to regroup in all three periods. The neutral zone play was a thing of beauty as well, as Edmonton passes were being picked off and Chicago moved through it freely, as if uncontested by the Edmonton defenders. In the defensive zone, it was nearly as good. Chicago allowed just 23 shots, most from low-percentage areas, and Nikolai Khabibulin was equal to all of them.
A friend of mine who worked for the Blackhawks for the last few years said it’s the best he’s seen them play in forever, and I can believe that. The Blackhawks committed just three giveaways all night but took the puck nine times, and only one of the Chicago giveaways was actually caused by an Edmonton player. Chicago also blocked 11 shots. Though Chicago gave Edmonton four power plays, the Oilers managed just one shot on net. You take care of the puck, the puck takes care of you.
After Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook scored special teams goals in the first period (Sharp’s on the power play, Seabrook’s shorthanded), the rest of the game was a formality. Seabrook’s goal, too, was perfectly indicative of the type of night Chicago had. Kris Versteeg blocked a blast from the point and Chicago had three guys go the other way with it. Once in the zone, Dave Bolland pulled up and waited for the trailer, and what a job Seabrook did in recognizing the developing play at the other end, especially for a defenseman. Seabrook’s wrister killed the Oil tonight. They never even looked especially threatening after that. From a blocked shot to a dagger of a shortie in seven seconds. It was crazy.
Granted, Vancouver and Edmonton ain’t exactly Detroit and San Jose, but if the ‘Hawks turn in performances even remotely resembling this against the real brass of the Western Conference, they’re going to win a ton of games this year, and make it look easy.
The good news, too, is that the game was at the United Center in front of more than 21,000 fans. They saw their hometown team play the closest thing to a flawless game anyone in that building is ever going to see. If that doesn’t keep them coming back, nothing will.
Florida 3, Ottawa 1
Can we please just say the Martin Gerber experiment is over? He got LIT UP by the Panthers tonight, including two in the first six minutes. Three goals on 21 shots compared to Ottawa’s one on 42. Oof, you never want your No. 1 goalie outdueled by Craig Anderson. Dany Alfredsson scored for Ottawa early in the second to cut the lead to one but Florida answered again midway through to put the game on ice. Any game where Karlis Skrastins is a +3 is a bad one for the other team.
New Jersey 5, Dallas 0
Marty Brodeur is very good. He made 21 saves and got a shutout, and that’s the 98th time he’s done that in his career. Marty Turco is very bad. He got yanked after giving up three goals on 17 shots. What makes this one worse were the goalscorers for New Jersey. Jamie Langebrunner, John Madden twice, Zach Parise (okay, not so bad there) and DAVID CLARKSON(?). That last goal, by the way, was possibly the least handsy scoring combo in history. Clarkson from AHL goon Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (And making his NHL debut, no less. What a start! What a hockey name!) and borderline AHL defenseman Andy Greene.
San Jose 7, Philadelphia 6 (SO)
Philly, as I’ve said before, is a very good team with no actual goaltending. As a result, they also still don’t have a win. Six goals against a very tough Sharks team, and it’s still not enough. Anterro Niittymaki gave up the TD on 29 shots. Philadelphia should REALLY trade for a goalie as soon as possible. Boston may have one to spare. The night wasted an otherwise impressive Flyers comeback that saw them score two third-period goals to rally from a 6-4 deficit. This, by the way, is the type of hockey Gary Bettman wants to see in every rink every night. A total of 12 goals plus a shootout. That’s not hockey, but soon, it will be the closest thing we’ve got.
Detroit 4, St. Louis 3
Ty Conklin completely stole this game for the Red Wings. Guy may have only stopped 21 shots, but he was astonishingly good at turning aside several St. Louis gimmes. Johan Franzen picked up the game-winner for the Winged Wheels, but Conklin deserved to be Star No. 1-7.