Well, well, well, look who’s putting a winning streak together.
Remember how the Blackhawks were sputtering and trying to figure things out for the first month (or so) of this season? Seems like a distant memory right now as the Blackhawks claimed their sixth consecutive victory on Friday night, a 3-1 decision over the Buffalo Sabres. It was a close one until late — credit goaltenders Corey Crawford and Chad Johnson for that — but the Blackhawks once again got that late burst of scoring.
So before we call it a night, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ latest victory.
1. Congratulations, Phillip Danault. He was brought up to replace Marcus Kruger, and he’s done just that, albeit as the third-line center instead of the fourth. But Friday it was his offense that was critical, and his pretty third-period goal was the first of his NHL career and the game winner. Danault’s contributions don’t start with offense, but he couldn’t have picked a better time to score his first.
2. Niklas Hjalmarsson’s two-point night. We’re usually giving Hjalmarsson kudos for blocking shots, shaking off the painful ones and returning a shift later. On Friday, however, the defenseman got a goal and an assist for his second two-point game of the season (two assists on Dec. 8 vs. Nashville). It’s a rare sight to see Hjalmarsson score — it was just his second of the season — but he’ll take it. “It didn’t feel like I touched the puck, but as long as the puck goes in I’m happy,” he said. “It’s fun to score goals.”
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3. Erik Gustafsson’s poise. When the Blackhawks put David Rundblad on waivers last week it was to give this kid a chance. The Blackhawks liked him in his first go-around and wanted to give him the opportunity to be an everyday player. He’s playing that part well, and his first-period pass to Hjalmarsson to set up the latter’s goal was a thing of beauty. Gustafsson looks confident out there. Hjalmarsson agrees. “I wish I had that confidence when I started playing on this team,” he said.
4. Chad Johnson deserved a better fate. Let’s give credit where it’s due: the Buffalo goaltender was tremendous for the Sabres. He got beat on Hjalmarsson’s screamer and a Danault top-shelf shot. Johnson stopped 42 of 44 shots — the Blackhawks’ third goal was Jonathan Toews’ empty-net score — and gave the Sabres a chance.
5. Blackhawks are finding their way. What’s been working during this six-game winning streak? We’ll let coach Joel Queneville take that one: “I like what we’re giving up, which is very little. Our goaltending’s been solid. I think our balance on the back end and consistency up front looks like it’s improving. That’s what we’re looking to try to continue to do.”