Opening night for the Chicago Blackhawks began with question marks a-plenty. Would the Hawks be able to replace Artemi Panarin and Niklas Hjalmarsson? Would Brandon Saad be able to jumpstart the first line? Has Corey Crawford lost a step? Will the Defense be able to shut down quality players and help on the offensive end? 10 minutes in to the game with a score of 4-0, the answers to those questions came quickly.
The first two offensive lines for the Hawks saw major changes from last year. Saad took the left wing, which was run by committee last year. Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman joined Patrick Kane on the second line; those spots were previously held by Panarin and Artem Anisimov. In a span of less than three minutes those three scored four goals to give the Blackhawks a 4-0 lead- Saad had two goals while Schmaltz and Hartman had one each. Saad then went on to post a hat trick. Hartman had one goal and four assists, while Schmaltz had two goals and one assist. Schmaltz was seemingly everyone at once; he appears to have gained a step since last season, whether physically or in confidence. And, of course Kane got in on the action with a goal and three assists. The changes to the top two lines were brilliant and gave the Hawks the jump they needed. First line had six points. Second line had 12 points.
Defensively, the Hawks were solid from top to bottom. They were fast, they won the skirmishes on the boards, and they pushed the puck on the transition from defense to offense. One glaring problem the Blackhawks had last year in the playoffs was the inability to cleanly move the puck through the neutral zone. Not last night. The Hawks’ puck movement allowed them to have odd man rushes consistently throughout the game, which led to a lot of pressure on the Pens goalies. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were true to form playing great D and netting four points. Newcomer Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling were excellent, playing very fast, managing the boards and moving the puck out of the D zone quickly.
The Hawks D was only caught once on a break-away by Evgeni Malkin. No matter, Corey Crawford deftly knocked the attempt aside with his right pad. Crawford didn’t face the usual barrage he would expect from the Penguins, but easily handled nearly all shots. A lot of credit must be given to the defense for keeping the Penguins from the front of the net and not allowing many clean shots on goal. The one goal that he did give up was on a five on three powerplay. No goalie in the league would have made that stop.
The Chicago Blackhawks had a great start to the season- a 10 to 1 victory over the Stanley Cup Champions. It’s too early to claim that all the problems from last year are fixed, but the Hawks do seem to be on the right track. 14 Blackhawks posted a goal or an assist last night in a total team effort. Oddly enough, the one name absent from that list was Alex DeBrincat, the young goal scoring phenom. Don’t worry Hawks fans, the 5’7”, 160 pounder was second on the team in hits, including a smashing hit that dropped 225 pound Ryan Reaves. That is what is meant by “team effort.”
The Blackhawks are back in action on Saturday vs. the Columbus Bluejackets at 7:30 CST.