We are already 2 games into the Blackhawks’ regular season, and they are 2-0. Both wins came on the road, with the first in L.A., and the second in Phoenix. I don’t think many people really knew what to expect from the Hawks through the first 2 games, but I would bet that not many people predicted things to go as well as they did.
After only a week of training camp, the Hawks (like all other NHL teams) we put right to the test by immediately starting regular season games with no preseason games. Because of this, I was expecting a sloppy start to the season from the Hawks. It would not have surprised me if they went 1-1 or 0-2 to start the season. Fortunately, they did much better than that.
After waiting for the L.A. Kings to raise their first ever Stanley Cup banner, the Hawks went out and thrashed them to begin the season 1-0. Kane started the scoring early in the first by ripping off a wicked one-timer from an impossible angle that beat Jonathan Quick. Not only did this give the Hawks an early lead in the game, but it got their powerplay off to a good start to the season. More on that in a bit. From there, the Hawks ran away with the game and ended up winning 5-2, thanks to goals by Hossa (2), Toews, and Frolik.
Last night in Phoenix, Ray Emery got the start in net in place of Corey Crawford, who started the day before in L.A. Emery let in a soft goal early in the first period, which left many Hawks fans (me included) thinking that it could be a long game. Thanks to Patrick Kane, however, the Coyotes lead didn’t last long. On the Hawks’ first powerplay of the game, Kane, with the puck on his stick, maneuvered his way from behind the Coyotes net, through the defensemen in front of the net, and then dished the puck off to Dave Bolland at the side of the net for an empty net goal. It was as sweet a goal as you will see (See it here). The Coyotes would end up getting the next goal, but the Blackhawks answered that with 4 straight goals to give them a 5-2 lead early in the third. The final score ended up being 6-4 in favor of the Hawks.
So, what did I see from the Hawks in their first two games?
I saw a completely different team than the one who was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round last spring. Throughout their first 2 games this year, the Hawks looked MUCH quicker moving up and down the ice, they had numerous dominating shifts in which they kept the puck in the offensive zone for over 30 seconds, they seemed more aggressive along the boards, and their special teams were solid. Last year, their powerplay and penalty kill both ranked in the bottom 5 in the NHL, which was unacceptable given the amount of talent on their roster. To see them succeed on both sides of their special teams play was a very good sight and should provide them with some confidence moving forward. This team is way too talented to not be one of the best teams on the powerplay this year.
Last night especially, I thought the Hawks showed much more aggressiveness than they did last year. Brandon Bollig and Niklas Hjalmarsson both had a couple of nice hits along the boards that really helped to set the tone for the game.
It was very nice to see so many guys getting involved in the scoring through the first two games. Frolik, who struggled mightily last year, got off to a good start by scoring in their first game against the Kings. He has looked much like he did in the playoffs last year, which is a VERY good sign. Bickell, who spent the lockout playing in Europe, has been more aggressive already and added a nice assist on Viktor Stalberg’s first goal of the season last night. Dave Bolland, who could prove to be the key to any success the Hawks might have this season, scored twice last night, including a powerplay goal. If he can avoid long stretches of recording minimal points, the Hawks will be much better off.
As for the top guys for the Hawks (Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp), they have gotten off to about as good of a start as we could have hoped for. Hossa already leads the NHL with 4 goals, Kane has looked as good as ever while adding a goal and a few assists, and Toews and Sharp both have a goal plus a couple assists between the two of them. The Hawks are going to need their top dogs to produce this year, and they are off to a good start.
As far as the defense and goaltending goes, both have looked good. The defense, especially in Phoenix, was outstanding. Hjalmarsson and Leddy both played great games, while Rosival added a great assist on Hossa’s first goal of the game. Keith and Seabrook were good as well, but they did nothing out of the ordinary (for them, at least). It is already apparent that the coaching staff is trying to limit Keith’s minutes, which should leave him with some more gas in the tank come playoff time. Corey Crawford looked really strong against L.A., and he is going to have to continue that trend moving forward.
Overall, I am very pleased with how the first two games went over the weekend. Regardless of what point in the season you’re at, getting 11 goals in 2 games is a good sign. This team looks determined to prove that they are better than what they showed in the playoffs last spring. If the can continue getting production from all four lines like they have so far, they are going to be tough to beat. At the same time, however, I don’t want to look too much into these first two games, seeing as how most teams are starting off rusty after a shortened preseason/training camp.
The Hawks play their home opener Tuesday night against St. Louis at 7:30.