No letdown allowed as the Blackhawks control the Devils 5-2 - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

No letdown allowed as the Blackhawks control the Devils 5-2

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Last Friday when the Blackhawks squandered a two goal lead they lacked a response when Vancouver applied pressure. On Monday night versus New Jersey the opposite was true. The Blackhawks played well and when they faltered came on again to take a 5-2 decision in front of 22,019 at the United Center.

For the Hawks to be able to make a long playoff run they will have to win against teams that are centered upon playing strong defense. New Jersey likes to clog up the middle of the ice and when successful can control the tempo. That was not the case last night.

The Blackhawks are very difficult to beat when they set the pace and stay focused. There were a couple of brief periods at the beginning of the middle frame and at the start of the final period when the Hawks collective focus appeared to slip. Instead of allowing the Devils to gain momentum the effort was in place to keep command. Each time New Jersey scored the Hawks followed with two goals of their own and never allowed the visitor from the East to seize control.

At times it appeared as if the Hawks were playing with an extra skater as they used speed and a sound forecheck to stifle the Devils offense. Jaromir Jagr was not noticeable for much of the contest as he finished the night a minus one and was held without a shot. New Jersey sits near the bottom of the league in shots on goal and last night they were held to only 12 shots for the entire match. That total is about 13 shots below their season average.

Once again Antti Raanta did his job, and barely broke a sweat. Raanta was flopping a bit on the Devils second goal but all in all played well.

The Blackhawks top line was involved and determined last night. Jonathan Toews finished a plus three with one assist and Marian Hossa notched two assists and finished a plus two.

Bryan Bickell was a member of third line and scored his sixth goal of the season. Brandon Saad picked up a nice assist and Andrew Shaw helped distract Schneider on Bickell's goal. All in all the line had a lot of jump and looks to be gelling nicely.

As a team the Hawks won 38 of 56 faceoffs for 68% and that helped to limit the chances from the Devils as well.

Chicago had 37 shots on goal with four players accounting for 21 strikes on Cory Schneider. Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp had seven and six shots respectively. Both have been playing well and continue to do so. Keith is a lock for Team Canada and Sharp is on track to make the squad as well. Sharp has 12 points in his last eight games. Last night he recorded two goals and now has nine multi-point games this season.

Patrick Kane scored his 22nd goal of the campaign and recorded four shots. Kane tied his career and season high point streak of 12 games which was set earlier this season. Kane sits second in the league in scoring with 49 points.

Nick Leddy teases Hawk fans with games like last night. Some will insist Leddy should be a noticeable player almost every game. Last night he was solid defensively and picked a up a goal and an assist while recording four shots.

Leddy is only 22 years old and this season has had three different partners. Some nights it's the older and slower Michal Rozsival, sometimes it is the steady Sheldon Brookbank. Last night Leddy was paired with Michael Kostka who would be his best skating partner. Maybe that was a reason for Leddy to be more assertive as Kostka could be there to clean up a mistake.

Defensemen like Brent Seabrook, who can jump to the NHL and shine with little AHL experience are rare. It still took Seabrook awhile to learn from his mistakes and he was paired with Keith from the beginning. Leddy played only 22 games in Rockford before making the jump to the big club. Keith played 154 games in Norfolk and had the benefit of solid coaching from a former NHL defender in Trent Yawney.

The future is bright for Leddy and fans need to stay patient. The Blackhawks front office knows what they have and so do others. Leddy would be a top pairing defenseman on some teams and certainly a top four on many right now. He would also be a fixture as a first team power play quarterback.

Leddy will bide his time, gain experience and get stronger. At some point he will get a chance to shine but for now he is another useful asset on a very strong group of defenders.

The Blackhawks go into the three day Christmas hiatus on a high note and will need to be ready for battle when they return. On Friday night Colorado comes to town and on Saturday the Hawks will be in St. Louis to play the Blues. They will complete a three game in four day stint by facing Los Angeles back at the UC next Monday night.

Al's Shots:

I was on NHL Network radio yesterday and was interviewed by Jim "Boomer" Gordon from NHL Home Ice. I will post the interview link on Twitter today. We discussed the play of Kane, Raanta and Keith as well as what makes Joel Quenneville the best Hawks head coach ever.

I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas!

I will be back on Saturday morning and you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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