An efficient performance by the Blackhawks - KMSP-TV

An efficient performance by the Blackhawks as Raanta blanks the Kings 1-0

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In many ways the Blackhawks and their fans would want 2013 to never end, but the year concluded in style. On Monday night the Hawks edged the Kings 1-0 and with the victory closed out the calendar year with an outstanding 64-14-12 record.

The Kings were physical and tried to impose their will upon the Blackhawks by dishing out 45 hits. They wanted to pound the Chicago defense in hopes of slowing down the transition game. In theory that plan makes sense as Los Angeles has some big forwards who can check. In reality the Hawks didn't turn bashful and they controlled the pace for most of the contest. Team defense was tight and the Hawks played the third period as if it was the first. They didn't go into a shell and LA couldn't keep the puck and were held to only five third period shots.

This game featured two outstanding performances by rookie goaltenders. The Kings Martin Jones was almost perfect as he allowed only one of 30 shots to dent the twine. The Blackhawks have their own prize rookie goalie as Antti Raanta needed to be perfect to win, and he was. Raanta stopped all 26 Los Angeles shots and that included a Dustin Brown penalty shot attempt that shouldn't have been awarded.

Raanta was coming off a performance in St. Louis where at times he looked like a young, inexperienced goalkeeper. Versus the Kings Raanta played with the composure of a veteran and probably had his best game as a Blackhawk. The night marked Raanta's first NHL shutout as he was named the number one star of the game. Raanta has recorded a 10-1-3 record and has opened some eyes while filling in for the injured Corey Crawford. Crawford has been working out and could be back over the weekend.

The Blackhawks third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad accounted for the lone tally. Saad scored his 14th goal of the season and Bickell recorded and assist along with Duncan Keith. Saad has a terrific shot at making the US Olympic team. Besides ranking eighth in points amongst US born forwards, Saad has 37 takeaways and is a lofty +16 on the season.

Saad has become a complete player, good in every zone and the same can be said for the entire third line. Shaw notched nine hits last night, which was a season high. Shaw plays a big man's game and along with the size of Bickell who has good hands, plus the talented Saad, form one of the best third lines in the NHL.

After the St. Louis loss it was mentioned here that Johnny Oduya had hit a rough patch. Well, versus the Kings he had a solid performance. Oduya played 21:45 which was second on the team and one second more than Keith. He recorded 1:45 of ice time on the penalty kill.

The best thing to say concerning the Chicago penalty kill is that the Hawks took only two penalties for the entire contest. The PK was perfect, although the Kings had some good looks. Throughout the game the Hawk defenders came up with some timely blocks and Raanta did the rest.

Jonathan Toews had a strong game and always seems to play well when matched up versus Mike Richards or Jeff Carter. As a team the Hawks won 60% of all faceoffs with Marcus Kruger (75%) and Toews (67%) leading the way.

Joel Quenneville had Patrick Kane on the ice late in the third period when the Kings pulled their goalie. It was an opportunity for Kane to keep his 14 game point streak alive but he was held scoreless.

The Hawks have had good success versus the Kings and a big reason why is the play of the bottom six forwards. Once again last night the third and fourth lines outplayed their counterparts by a considerable margin.

The Blackhawks will look to start 2014 the same way 2013 ended as they will travel to New York to face the Islanders on Thursday.

Al's Shots:

Lately I have made a concerted effort to not use many keystrokes to describe the awful performances by NHL referees. Once again on Monday night there were more head scratching calls and non-calls. I won't go into a rant to end the year but I will express some thoughts in my next article.

Until then I would like to wish all my readers a Happy and Healthy New Year.

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

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