By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) The Blackhawks’ 4-3 road win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night was, let’s just say, less than convincing. The Blackhawks somehow overcame themselves and stole two points from a hungry and aggressive foe.
On the other hand, Monday’s home win over the Los Angeles Kings couldn’t have been more convincing. Chicago controlled the action from start to finish, winning 4-1 and, more importantly, pulling itself within a point of the second-place St. Louis Blues and within four points of the division-leading Nashville Predators.
There was so much good happening on the ice Monday night at the United Center, it’s almost impossible to get to all of it. So I’m going to isolate on a couple of guys who were truly outstanding.
A few observations…
— First and foremost, Duncan Keith looked like the Duncan Keith of old. He was aggressive, confident and controlling the play whenever he was on the ice. So often this year, we’ve seen Keith turn the puck over defensively and play a passive style of offense, often refusing to shoot the puck in the most obvious of situations. Perhaps those nights were the result of playing with inadequate partners like David Rundblad or Michal Rozsival. The stress of having to simultaneously create offense while being the last line of defense has to have worn on Keith. For one night — and hopefully many more to come — we saw the defending Norris Trophy winner looking like a Norris contender.
— Johnny Oduya is the other defenseman who played a terrific game. In his last three games, Oduya’s a plus-7. More importantly, he’s passing the eye test with flying colors. Niklas Hjalmarsson commented that Oduya is playing as well as he’s ever played in Chicago. The combination of Hjalmarsson and Oduya had been Chicago’s top shutdown pair until Oduya’s poor play earlier this season forced coach Joel Quenneville’s hand in breaking up the pair. Now with Oduya back to full effectiveness, look for Quenneville to lean heavily on those two, especially as the playoffs go on.
— In my piece about the Winnipeg game, I mentioned how well Andrew Shaw has played, and that continued Monday. He recorded an assist and provided a perfect screen on Keith’s power-play goal. Shaw’s perfectly suited for a third- or fourth-line line role. When he’s right, Shaw brings what the Blackhawks lack most: physicality and a willingness to stand in front of the net and disrupt the goaltender’s line of vision. The Blackhawks will need this version of Shaw if they’re going to win the Stanley Cup this season.
— With every passing game, it becomes more and more evident how special of a player Teuvo Teravainen could be. Skating on the fourth line Monday with offensive dynamos Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger, Teravainen registered eight shots on goal — and that was in just more than 13 minutes of ice time. Since his latest call-up, Teravainen has shown a confidence and attacking mentality we hadn’t seen. It’s evident that Quenneville and the rest of the Chicago brass is encouraging him to shoot the puck. He’s responded well, and it seems like just a matter of time before the points start to pile up. Teravainen’s shooting percentage is 5.6 percent. While there are no past seasons in his NHL career to compare to, it’s a safe assumption that the number will rise over time. If the Blackhawks start to play him on the top six, the assist numbers will rise as well.
— Did you know that the Blackhawks have the Western Conference’s highest goal differential? Chicago is +41 when it comes to goals scored against goals allowed. The Blackhawks have also allowed the fewest goals (176) in the conference and trail only the Canadiens (174) for fewest goals allowed in the entire NHL. This only makes the outrage and hatred for goalie Corey Crawford more baffling. Every number — personal or team — shows he’s at or near the top of the league. I’m not sure what more Crawford needs to do to silence his critics.
— People are quick to blame me and my Bud Light “On the Glass” events when a player is bad or traded. Well, I had an event with Scott Darling on March 17. Since then, he’s allowed one goal in 162:39. So you can pipe down.
— Has anyone else noticed how incredible Brandon Saad — or should I call him Brandon $aad — is playing lately? For whatever reason, playing with Shaw and Bryan Bickell has activated Saad’s attack mode. He’s dominating every shift he’s taking and is thriving as the go-to guy on the third line. He was one of the best players on the ice in a game full of good players on the ice Monday night. Saad’s about to get rich and cause yet another big cap problem for the Blackhawks.
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.