The Chicago Blackhawks squared off with the Columbus Bluejackets in the first game of the pre-season. The two teams took a different approach to the game: the Bluejackets used the game to give the starters some work, especially Artemi Panarin who played with Nick Foligno much of the night while the Blackhawks sat all of the core players allowing the younger players and new acquisitions to fight for the remaining roster spots. Noticeably absent from the Blackhawks lineup was Alex DeBrincat; although we can’t read too much into this, it does appear that perhaps he has already proven his worth to Coach Quenneville.
The Blackhawks won the game handily 5-2, but the bigger story for Blackhawks fans was the early emergence of a few players. One of the big question marks for the Hawks is who will take over for Scott Darling as the backup to Cory Crawford. Darling provided some much needed wins over the past two season and incited controversy among fans as to who should have been kept in the offseason. No easy shoes to fill. However, Anton Forsberg filled those shoes nicely stopping 38 shots in goal. He faced a variety of shots, including a few that Hawks fans are familiar with from Artemi Panarin in his usual powerplay spot in the left dot. Forsberg looked sharp all night and clearly has the lead going into the season.
The defense has also been a question mark for the Hawks this offseason. Based on the first game, it would appear that as many as three defensive spots are up for grabs. Going into the game, many felt that Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling had the edge, but after lackluster performances last night, the gap has clearly closed. Cody Franson, brought in on at Try-Out contract played very well. He showed the ability to run the point on the powerplay and still has a rocket blue line shot- he posted a goal and assist on the night. His lack of speed did show among the youngsters, but his knowledge of the game allowed him to keep pace in the D zone. Jan Rutta, a very similar player to Franson, showed promise as well. He, too, has an excellent shot from the blue line scoring on a ricochet off the boards. Rutta also showed an awareness in the D zone maintaining his positioning in front of the net and playing fundamental hockey. First round pick Henri Jokiharju played a nice game as well. He showed last night that he has a nice offensive game and will one day run the point on powerplay, but physically he is not ready to make the leap.
Offensively, the Blackhawks looked sharp. Nick Schmaltz looked fast and moved the puck pretty well. Schmaltz scored one goal on the night- a top shelf beauty to the goalies stick side and added an assist. His faceoff percentage was below 50% again, but was slightly improved over last year. Vinnie Hinostroza, who logged minutes with the Blackhawks and IceHogs last year had a productive night as well. Hinostroza scored one goal and was seemingly everywhere at once. He plays a very fast game and was extremely confident. Laurent Dauphin had an excellent game in his Blackhawks debut. He scored one goal and posted three hits and three blocks. Dauphin is very physical, not afraid to use his body to stop the puck, and could find himself on the penalty kill this season. Finally, Tomas Jurco is trying to make the roster after a poor season with the Blackhawks last season. On Tuesday night, Jurco posted two assists and looked to be very active and confident. If he continues to play an aggressive role, he could find a spot on the bottom six.
While there isn’t too much concrete to take from just one pre-season game, there are reasons to be encouraged. All question marks from the offseason are being addressed; some found better answers than others in the 5-2 win over the Bluejackets. All we can say for now is that players like Forsberg, Franson, Rutta, Schmaltz have taken a step toward that starting day lineup.
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