Winter Wonderland in Chicago
Saturday's Stadium Series game between the Penguins and Blackhawks won't be
CHICAGO, IL -- The game came with all the hype you could ask for to
kick the NHL season into high gear for the home stretch.
Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby, teammates six days prior in the gold
medal game in Sochi, faced off for the first time in the NHL. Toews
with two rings, Crosby with one -- both with two gold medals.
But the Toews-Crosby storyline wasn't the only angle in this matchup.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma coached Blackhawks star Patrick Kane in
Sochi. Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp had played with Chris Kunitz on
Canada's gold medal team as well. And Marian Hossa had played in the
Stanley Cup Final with Pittsburgh in 2008, losing to Detroit.
The scene when the puck dropped was similar to the one on New Year's
Day in Ann Arbor. Snow was coming down -- hard -- and the stands were
packed with fans excited to see a game in a unique environment.
As the game played out, the snow continued to accumulate and it
clearly impacted the play. The pace of the game was a credit to the
teams playing in it; the puck was cutting a visible trail through the
snow on the ice throughout the game. There were good hits, good shots
and plenty of back-and-forth early on as teams got familiar with each
other and the weather.
One of the big hits early on came from Craig Adams on Hossa behind the
Pittsburgh net while Chicago was on a power play. Hossa did not return
for the final seven minutes of the first period, and was ruled out of
the second and third periods.
After the game, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Hossa "might miss
a little time" with an upper-body injury.
Sharp opened the scoring for the Hawks soon after Hossa was injured,
converting a pass from Toews for his 29th of the season. Sharp
attempted nine shots in the game, with five finding their way to
Marc-Andre Fleury and one getting past him.
For Toews, the assist on Sharp's goal was the opening statement in a
night that was dominated by him and the Blackhawks. Toews scored twice
in the game, including the game-winner in the second period, and won
15 of 27 faceoffs to lead a complete effort from Chicago.
The Blackhawks received goals from three of their four lines: Toews
(2), Sharp, Kris Versteeg and Bryan Bickell. On the Hawks’ fourth
line, Marcus Kruger won 10 of 13 faceoffs and Brandon Bollig was
credited with a team-high six hits.
Kruger, who will turn 24 in late May, has been evolved into an
intriguing player on Chicago's fourth line. After carving out a niche
as a penalty kill specialist over the last couple seasons for the
Hawks, Kruger has grown into a more significant role with the team
And, with injuries crushing the depth chart for Sweden and Nicklas
Backstrom removed from the gold medal game because of his allergy
medication, Kruger stepped up and skated over 18 minutes and performed
well against Canada in the Olympic finale.
Before the game, Chicago general manager Stan Bowman addressed the
media and said the Blackhawks don't plan on being active as the trade
"We're not focused on the deadline," Bowman said. "We're really happy
with the team we have... We made our big move back in November [adding
"I think sometimes it's hard for guy comes in for a couple weeks and
then you jump into the playoffs and you can't get him acclimated to
your system and the way you play and who you're going to play with,”
Bowman continued. "So we're not looking at that at all. We've got a
great group here."
A day later, the Blackhawks traded center Brandon Pirri to the Florida
Panthers for two draft picks, a move the team was looking to complete
for some time after Pirri requested a change of scenery. To be fair,
this isn't exactly a deadline deal.
But the injury sustained by Hossa may impact the Hawks' needs, and
could explain why they've been linked to Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver
They have another player on their AHL club in Rockford -- Jeremy Morin
-- playing extremely well and both he and Pirri were talked about by
Bowman prior to the outdoor game on Saturday.
"[Pirri and Morin] are dominant at the American League level," Bowman
said. "The whole reason we have the system that we have here is that
they get a lot of repetition in the American League so that they’re
continuing to improve their game. What we're trying to do is give
those guys a chance when they're not in Chicago to play big minutes
and prepare themselves for when the time comes and when they're here."
For one of them, the time already came. Will the other's?