Blackhawks Buzz: April 11, 2014 at Washington Capitals
With two games remaining in the regular season, the Blackhawks will end the campaign with a road trip to Washington, D.C., and Nashville, with Friday’s game against the Caps as the first stop. Chicago bested Washington 6-4 on Opening Night, with Brandon Saad (1G, 2A) leading the charge. But coming into Friday’s game, neither team will likely have much on the line aside from pride: Washington has officially been eliminated from the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff race, and the Blackhawks will begin their quest to defend the title on the road against either Colorado or St. Louis. The game still has lots of intrinsic meaning, however, as the Blackhawks continue to hone their game heading into the postseason, and Washington's players are evaluated for next season.
Patrick Sharp played the overtime hero in Wednesday’s victory against Montreal, assisting on Marian Hossa’s game-tying goal with 47.7 seconds to play in regulation, then netting the game-winner 43 seconds into overtime. The last time the Blackhawks had such a last-gasp victory was Oct. 13, 2007, when Robert Lang scored at 19:58 of the third period and Jason Williams potted the decisive goal 43 seconds into overtime in a 2-1 win over the Stars, according to Elias Sports Bureau. In the absence of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Sharpy’s output has kept the Blackhawks offense going; he has seven points (4G, 3A) in his last six games, and is riding a three-game point streak.
Though Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is a virtual lock to win the 2014 Maurice Richard Trophy—given to the league’s leading goal scorer—at the end of this season, the campaign will certainly be a disappointment to the Russian superstar and his teammates. The Capitals will miss the postseason for the first time since 2007, and though Ovi has racked up the points, he’s carrying a -34 plus/minus rating this year, tied for second-worst in the entire NHL. Ovechkin did not register an even-strength goal in the entire month of March, a total of 16 games. He remains one of the league’s most feared offensive players, however, and will demand attention whenever he’s on the ice.
Washington’s power-play unit is among the NHL’s most lethal with a 23.4 percent success rate, sitting just behind Pittsburgh at the top of the league. However, it’s been a different story at even strength, where their 5-on-5 goal ratio is just .85, meaning they’re surrendering more goals than they’re scoring at even strength. Only five teams have a lower ratio than Washington, and none are playoff-bound. On Chicago’s end, the Blackhawks have scored 1.32 even-strength tallies for every one surrendered, third-best in the league.
Posting three wins in the Blackhawks’ current four-game streak, it appears that Corey Crawford is rounding into playoff form at just the right time. Crawford stopped 28 shots in Wednesday’s victory, including 13 in the first period when the Habs were furiously attacking. The Quebec native has won his last three starts, surrendering just two goals in each outing while stopping 74 shots.
Friday’s game is likely the first of four straight road games for Chicago, with the postseason awaiting after the weekend. Even without two of their top three scorers, the Blackhawks have found a way to pile up victories and defend well enough to give themselves a chance in every game. Against the Caps, the Blackhawks need to continue the trend: taking what they give you on offense, playing responsibly on defense and staying out of the box, minimizing the number of power plays and odd-man chances for Washington.