Do you remember the first time you were taught to use a hammer? Perhaps you were handed a small nail and instructed on how to hold the hammer high up. Then, of course, you finally received permission to start using the full leverage of the hammer by holding the handle further down. Both are helpful, but once things are in place, you need to get more leverage, not continue to tap-tap-tap with a safe grip near the hammer’s head.
Ales Hemsky’s game is, to me, like holding the hammer way down. He doesn’t play the nice, safe “stop-and-start” game that coaches and grinding players take pride in. He, instead, uses the full leverage of his skating and stickhandling in order to drive play the right way whenever things line up for him. Maybe you don’t like how his game means higher risk, but as for me, I’ll take the danger. I’ll take the giant, wild swings that might occasionally seems crazy to risk-averse folks. Dallas is a team that has been unable to do anything but tap-tap-tap for most of the year. You need folks who aren’t afraid to try to drive the nail deep, and I’m not sure Hemsky is afraid to do anything (other than perhaps to adhere to a Randy Carlyle system of play). This hammer/nail analogy is discomfiting if you’re a teenager, but I’m okay with it. Like Hemsky, I’m mature enough to know when the possible misinterpretation of something is irrelevant to its net advantages.
The Hawks’s first goal was a combination of bad choices by Dallas. Eakin made a good play in the defensive zone to knock the puck away from Toews, but then he decided to hold the blue line or something after the 2-on-1 rush, and Eakin was made irrelevant by the Blackhawks on the counterattack. Patrik Nemeth then played the pass, and Patrick Kane recalled that he was, in fact, Patrick Kane facing Kari Lehtonen, and the rest was a formality.
Johnny Oduya’s return to Chicago really makes their defense a Frankenstein’s monster carbon copy of Cup teams past (albeit with a few more miles on them). How Chicago has managed to be this solid despite not really developing a solid young defenseman in a while is, well, pretty admirable. If you are a Chicago fan, you may object to this characterization of Trevor van Riemsdyk, but whatever man. His name is Trevor, like Neville’s toad.
Patrick Sharp might not look hurt, but maybe it’s his good fortune that is truly hurting right now. His late first period breakaway that turned into the MAHPOTG after the puck got itself overcaffeinated was a prime example of this (as was his stopped shorthanded chance early in the second), but hey, 2016-17 gonna 2016-17.
In game 73, neither Julius Honka nor Stephen Johns was put into the lineup, and I am extremely curious why, particularly with Honka (who will make Nill a liar if he isn’t called up this week). Johns was scratched again because, Ruff said, he didn’t want to change the lineup after a win. A win, mind you, in which the defense was not good. But apparently winning is a magical, mystical formula, and coaches have no idea why it ever happens, so it’s best to just not touch any buttons unless something goes wrong. I know the coaches often use wins as an excuse to reward players and manage personalities, so I’m not trying to be naive. But still, when I hear “we’re rolling with the lineup that won last time” sorts of comments, I am sometimes reminded of Homer Simpson at his nuclear power plant safety console. You need to be willing to push the right buttons even when you have an excuse not to.
Meanwhile, Greg Pateryn (Greg, to his friends, like us) was playing, because I suppose you have to play good old Greg every now and then. Greg foiled a Marian Hossa breakaway right before watching a Marian Hossa goal, so there’s that. Good for Greg, at first. Bad for Radek Faksa, second, who probably ought to have had the slot covered.
Worse for Radek Faksa was late in the game, when he kind of foolishly reached for a poke check and brought Artemi Panarin down, which meant the Hawks got to end regulation (and begin overtime) on the power play. Not Radek’s best night, was this night.
Also, I might be wrong, but did it seem like Razor was having to prompt Ludwig to give analysis in this one? I recall a couple of “What happened on that play?” and “Do you think he felt he had more time there?” and “How do you think the period has gone so far?” sorts of comments that really felt like nails (heh) on a chalkboard. As we think more and more about next season, I can’t help but wonder what the plan in the booth is. If Dave Strader can’t return for regular duty (but let’s hope he can!), then I hope they do as diligent a search as they did two years ago to put a solid duo in place—whichever side of the mic that puts Razor on.
Dan Hamuis has gotten better as the season has gone on, but it was frustrating to see him subjected to the idiocies of Ryan Hartman, who clearly wants to pick up the slack Andrew Shaw left lying around his fetid locker. In a perfect world, Jamie Oleksiak would have been around to skate over to Hartman and give us all some nice catharsis, but this world is, as you surely know by this point in the season, quite imperfect.
Jiri Hudler started on the top power play, which looked quite good (though unfruitful) early on. I appreciate that Lindy Ruff has finally decided to let Hudler try to play to his strengths now, in the final 10 games. That seems kind of him. Hudler got a glorious chance midway through the second on the advantage, but he couldn’t quite elevate the quick backhand chance he got. Still, it was comforting to see that Jiri Hudler really is a hockey player worthy of being acquired. It’s too bad he had to walk under the 438 ladders leaning against the entrance to the AAC on his way into town last fall.
Also, Ales Hemsky was singlehandedly maintaining the moribund 2nd power play unit tonight. Zone entries with possession, pucks being lugged through the neutral zone, and scoring chances created with traffic? Picking Toews’s pocket two different times? This is your $4 million forward, once again.
Oh, and you may recall that I wondered a little while ago whether Ales Hemsky might catch Cody Eakin in points before this season ends. Well, I thought that rather unlikely when Ruff started playing them on the same line, since forwards tend to combine for points on a lot of their goals. However, after tonight, Hemsky has five points (3G, 2A) in 11 games to Eakin’s 10 points (3G, 7A) in 51 games played. This could really happen.
Oh, and let’s review those goals, briefly, since Hemsky finally condescended to score on some actual shots, just to allay suspicions about his true origins:
Goal 1: Jamie Benn played Keep Away, then a John Klingberg centering attempt might have ticked off a Chicago skate right to Hemsky in the slot, and it turns out Ales Hemsky can shoot the puck and score goals with magic when he is fairly certain it won’t cause his secret supernatural identity to be revealed. That’s a player the Stars could have used for, like, the entire season. Every Ales Hemsky goal is a gift of which we’re collectively unworthy. Repent for watching it, and be grateful.
Goal 2: Tyler Seguin was put onto the Hemsky/Benn line, and he immediately watched a silky Klingberg saucer pass facilitate an Esa Lindell shot that threaded its way through traffic and off a Jamie Benn tip before rebounding right to Hemsky for the putaway to tie the game. It wasn’t as pretty as the other goal, but a Hemsky goal is pretty, tautologically.
Meanwhile, Tyler Seguin’s Former Linemates created a breakaway right after he departed, and Remi Elie got the puck over to Ritchie for a glorious chance to take the lead. Ritchie, however, shot the puck all the way to Las Vegas instead of forcing Crawford to make a save. It was a very hard shot, though, if that matters. (It does not matter.)
The Stars didn’t meaningfully touch the puck for the first three minutes of overtime, but Jamie Benn finally got the puck headed up ice with Hemsky(!) and Klingberg, and his pass to Hemsky (who bobbled for a tick) was relayed to Klingberg, who then fed Jamie Benn. Benn took about sixteen shots on Crawford before the puck was frozen, after which Benn was politely informed that “sorry, it’s Ales’s night to score” and sent to the bench.
Remi Elie got a similar message after stealing the puck from Marian Hossa and bearing down alone on Crawford, who saved basically every puck shot by a mortal while the clock was running, including Elie’s The Blackhawks have good goalies. They will not have one of them next year. It’d be nice to have one.
The shootout happened, and I don’t know how that works, actually. Isn’t overtime the last thing in a game? Give me a second to check the rules and, okay, here we go: turns out that it’s This Year and After Regulation, so that means the Stars still lose. That wasn’t so complicated after all.
Sure, Tyler Seguin had a Modano-esque shot in the shootout, and Patrick Kane is still stupid and good and junk, but it was perfectly fitting that after two goals in regulation, Hemsky couldn’t find magic in the skills competition. The weird thing was, his miss was actually the least Ales Hemsky thing about this entire game. Which might make it the most. I’m not sure, to be honest. I just watch the games.