Saad scores two, Blackhawks find missing home-ice edge in 3-1 victory over Ducks
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A big, bright idea pinballed around the Blackhawks locker room after Tuesday’s late-morning team skate at the United Center. This, as the dust still settled from Sunday’s preposterously poor performance against the Lightning, who controlled the puck to such an extreme that they pounded 33 shots — in the second period alone — at goalie Cam Ward.
Hear this, folks: The Hawks want to be a better team at home.
“Let’s be better on home ice,” Patrick Kane said hours before a 3-1 victory over the Ducks. “Let’s try to get a win for the fans here and start rolling here, because it’s a great place to play and we can really use it to our advantage.”
The team is 3-0-1 on the road and now — after its most complete performance of the young season — 2-2-1 on its own ice. It was a most welcome change for the better, with the Lightning debacle having followed on the heels of a 4-1 affair against the Coyotes — an oddly uninspired effort in goalie Corey Crawford’s long-awaited comeback game — and a 7-6 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs, who got a hat trick from John Tavares.
Be better than that at home? Could they have been worse had they tried?
Nick Schmaltz, for one, spoke beforehand of playing with “pride” at home, and that seemed to be in abundance as the Hawks outshot the Ducks 38-25, played strong defense in front of locked-in goalie Crawford and made the sort of hustle plays in the offensive and neutral zones that had been missing.
Oh, and Alex DeBrincat — giving away 8 inches and 50 pounds — didn’t back down one iota in a scuffle with the Ducks’ Josh Manson. That’ll leave an impression.
“It got the team going,” Erik Gustafsson said. “I don’t know, he’s like three heads bigger than him.”
Coach Joel Quenneville took a stab at improving the team’s puck possession and overall play by rejiggering his line combinations in preparation for the Ducks. Jonathan Toews’ line remained intact, but the struggling Brandon Saad skated with Artem Anisimov and Kane on the No. 2 line, bumping Schmaltz to the No. 3 line with David Kampf and Alexandre Fortin.
A high-energy Saad opened the scoring on a first-period power play with his first goal of the season, punching his own rebound past goalie John Gibson, and added an empty-netter in the final minute of play.
“It definitely feels good, yeah,” he said. “But that just goes back to keep coming consistently, keeping a level head, keep shooting the puck and they’re going to go in. Regardless if they go in or not, you’ve got to take the positives and stay confident.”
Kane has rarely been matched with the same linemates for long as a Hawk — “I think it’s been changing for, like, 12 years,” he cracked — but the pairing with Saad could have some staying power. Kane scored the go-ahead goal in the third period off a slick feed from Gustafsson.
Moments before Saad made it 3-1, an apparent goal by Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler was disallowed due to a high stick.
Meanwhile, all hands on deck contributed to raising the bar defensively. The Hawks came in allowing an even four goals per game, ranking 29th in the league, but Crawford was stout — again — and he had plenty of help.
“I thought we were way better in all aspects of our team game,” Quenneville said. “I thought limiting what we gave up defensively was what we were trying to get to, and we were at our best [compared with] any point in any game this year with what we gave up.”