The Chicago Blackhawks were well aware that they needed to get things started on the right foot this season and they did just that when they steamrolled over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night. After getting swept by the Nashville Predators in round one of the 2017 NHL playoffs, the Hawks had plenty of time to prepare themselves and make necessary changes. They adjusted plays, the roster, and for some players like Jonathan Toews, even their workouts and diets. A season opener at home is always a big deal to every team, but with the Hawks facing the 2017 Stanley Cup champions, it just meant stepping up even more. With their ten to one win against Pittsburgh, the Hawks have shown their opponents that they mean business and that this year they won’t go down without a fight.
The first period was packed full of goals, four of which came within a less than three minute time span. Ryan Hartman opened the scoring, with a beauty of a behind the net backhand pass from Patrick Kane. Brandon Saad, Nick Schmaltz, and Patrick Sharp all tallied goals in the first period as well, with Saad scoring twice. Antti Niemi started in net for the Penguins, but was quickly pulled after Saad tallied his second of the night. Goaltender Matt Murray was then put in for the Pens, with Corey Crawford still holding down the fort for the Blackhawks on his end.
The barrage of goals from the Hawks was cut off for a bit in the second period. Phil Kessel scored the lone Penguins goal on a powerplay, but then the Hawks picked up right where they left off after that. Kane and Richard Panik each scored their first goals of the game, while Schmaltz tallied his second of the night towards the middle of the period. Chicago finished off the second period with a lead of eight to one.
With their high lead, the Hawks wrapped up the night with some more strong plays in the third period. Saad notched his third goal for a hat trick and Brent Seabrook helped his team reach double digits to close out the game. By the end of the sixty minutes, fourteen of the Blackhawks players had at least one point. Not to be forgotten, Crawford also had a terrific night. He made 28 saves for Chicago and is well on the road to putting up even better percentages than last year.
Many Hawks were noticeable during the game, but the line of Kane, Schmaltz, and Hartman was a dazzling trio. The line, nicknamed “Crazy 8s,” had a total of twelve points and looked quick on their feet. With the absence of his former teammate, Artemi Panarin, some speculated that Kane would have a harder time getting his high point totals, but he quickly shut down those talks. His pass to Hartman in the first period was a no-look pass, proving his ability to quickly judge the game and make snap decisions. Schmaltz also showed some serious development. Last season, he was an unsure center who didn’t quite make an all too flashy impression on the ice. This time, he made sure the coaching staff and the fans knew what he would be bringing to the team throughout the season. Unfortunately, the Hawks will be without Schmaltz for a few games. He left the home opener due to an injury and then rejoined the Hawks when they played the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night. He was injured again against the Blue Jackets and left the game for good. It was later released that he had suffered an upper body injury and that he would not be joining the Hawks on their upcoming road trip.
Though the Blackhawks had a phenomenal game to open the season, they do still have one thing they can work on as the season progresses. While they scored ten goals, the Blackhawks were unable to capitalize on the eight powerplay chances they had. Going into the rest of the season, it’ll be important for the Hawks to use that extra man advantage as often as they can, since it can be the deciding factor between an important win or a loss. The team did, however, do a solid job of staying out of the box. Even with Kessel scoring while the Hawks were down a man, they were only in the box twice during the night. With the league taking means to keep players safe and making more calls, especially on infractions like slashing, it was a great consideration of the Blackhawks to stay in line during a game that was very frustrating to their opponent.
The season opener provided strong momentum for the team, who then went on to beat the Blue Jackets five to one during their second game, and they’ll look to keep things going as they move on to their next few games. Coming up for the Blackhawks are the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, as well as their central division foes, the Minnesota Wild and the Nashville Predators. The games against the Wild and the Predators should be especially riveting, with feelings still strong between the teams from last season.