By Mike Burvee
16 points and 11 wins separated the Stanley Cup Champion Capitals from the bottom-feeder Blackhawks when they met up inside the Madhouse on Madison on Sunday. While the Caps have been dealing with some offensive issues, nothing compares to holding the title of the worst in the league with the Hawks enduring a five-game losing streak. The Hawks were able to end that streak, playing like the Hawks of old, with big games from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in a 8-5 win.
Washington took control from the puck drop and threatened early with a couple scoring attempts, both saved by Collin Delia who also had a big day on the ice. The Hawks were in trouble after Erik Gustafsson was sent to the penalty box for cross-checking. The Caps put six shots on goal before Chicago even took one, giving an overwhelming feeling despite still being tied 0-0. That all changed just over six minutes in as Brandon Saad saw a gap and glided through the defense, notching a goal to open the scoring and give the home crowd a reason to get even louder.
Washington won the face-off but didn’t do much the rest of the period with the Blackhawks controlling the puck and finding some more scoring opportunities. Just over a minute after Saad found the back of the net, Kane followed up with a goal of his own, assisted by Toews and Brent Seabrook to put the Caps on their heels. The visitors would respond with a flurry of their own with just under six minutes left in the period and succeeded with Brooks Orpik, one of the veterans of the NHL, swiping at a puck just to send it on net and it slipped by Delia to end the shutout. Toews scored just 30 seconds later, unassisted, to put the Hawks back up a pair.
The early onslaught continued with the Hawks being the beneficiary of some Washington miscues, including a collapse on Dylan Strome who passed to a streaking and all alone Alex DeBrincat who sniped a shot over the shoulder of Braden Holtby to light up the bench, and the Madhouse, giving the Hawks a 4-1 lead. That goal chased Holtby from the net after making seven saves on 11 shot attempts, being replaced by Pheonix Copley. With nothing going right for the Caps, they started to play more physical with their leaders trying to inject some more energy throughout their team. Alex Ovechkin was put in the box for roughing, followed shortly by Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly while the Hawks matched them with Connor Murphy, David Kampf and Duncan Keith were also in the box. The Caps would score one more goal in the second period with Dmitry Orlov scoring from a difficult angle, just hoping to get it on goal and have it slipby Delia.
While he allowed a couple goals that should’ve been easy stops, the 24 year old from California had some terrific saves including back-to-back outstanding saves on Wilson before allowing Orlov’s shot to slide through. Things got tense late, but Delia did enough despite being scored on five times on 39 shot attempts. Coming into the matchup against the Caps, Delia had played in five games this month, allowing 15 goals on 160 shot attempts (90.6%) but was unable to come away with a win. Earlier in the week, he came in to relieve Cam Ward against New Jersey and faced 15 shots,14 of which he stopped for his best save percentage of the month in a 8-5 loss. His workload has increased as of recent, with Ward starting one of the previousfive games.
The final period revolved around the number three, fittingly in the third period. Just over three minutes into the third John Carlson had an opportunity and succeeded to cut the Cap’s deficit down to a single goal. Within that same minute, Nicklas Backstrom was sent to the box for hooking and the Hawks were on the power play. It only took 13 seconds for the Hawks to make the most of it, with Kaner finding some open iceand getting off a slapshot which fit between a narrow window with Copley being screened off by Drake Caggiula to put Chicago up 5-3. Washington was soon on the powerplay with a delay of game penalty on Artem Anisimov as he accidentally flipped the puck out of play. The Hawks endured a trio of shots and once the time expired, Toews was able to net his seconds of the game with an assist from Kane. The scoring was far from over as Carlson slotted another goal for theCaps and Matt Niskanen had Washington within a goal again with just over six minutes left.
Chicago fans were certainly getting an uneasy feeling, a feeling that’s been common throughout much of the season. As nervous energy filled the stands and the traveling crowdhad a chance to come to life, the Hawks team remained calm and the star players did what they do best. Captain Toews netted his third goal of the game with five minutes to go, earning a Hat Trick on the day. With a couple minutes left, the Caps pulled their goalie and a steal by Dominik Kahun would end up on Strome’s stick, who scored from the blue line even after being hooked by Ovi. The empty-netter with just under two minutes left would be the final goal of the game with the Blackhawks sweating out the roller-coaster 8-5 win to end their five-game losing streak.
The Capitals had several of their players come into the game with cold streaks, having scored one or less goals in their past dozen games. The defense kept them in the game against Chicago, scoring all five goals for the Caps. Ovi finished the game with a +1 rating but didn’t score and didn’t assist on a goal, which was a huge accomplishment for the Blackhawks considering he leads the NHL in scoring. Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsovand TJ Oshie were all held off the board, with Oshie generating two assists inthe loss.
Hawks stars keep rolling
It’s hard to imagine, given the season the Blackhawks are having their stars are still constantly producing on the ice. Usually when teams are in the bottom, or even near the bottom, the big names are having off years, but it’s been the defense that’s been more inconsistent this season. This past week Toews has tallied a point in four of his six games and has 21 goals on the season to go along with 26 assists, totaling 47 points. Kane now has 29 goals on the season and 41 assists to equal 70 points on the season and has now scored six goals in the Hawks’ previous six games. Kane is the lone Chicago skater to make the All-Star Game, which will be held on January 26 in San Jose.
The Blackhawks are hoping togo into the All-Star Break with a winning streak and some renewed hope, but they’ll have to beat the surging New York Islanders on January 22. Since the beginning of the month, the Islanders have won eight of their 10 games including an 3-2 OT win over the Blackhawks on January 3. They have wins over the rival NY Rangers along with the Tampa Bay Lightening (top team in the NHL) and blanked the Caps 2-0 on January 18. Washington’s loss on Sunday has them behind the Islanders who lead the Metropolitan Division. Chicago now has a 17-24-9 record with 43 points, tied for the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils who are in the bottom of their respective conferences, while briefly passing the LA Kings (42 pts) for worst team in the NHL.