That’s more like it

1306350614After suffering disappointing and bad losses to the Lightning and Wild in consecutive games, the Blackhawks got back on track last night with a 5-1 victory in Minnesota over the Wild. It took the Hawks a couple periods to really get going, but the end result was very satisfying. After two periods the Blackhawks led by a score of 3-1, and everyone was anxious to see if they could finally pull away from their opponent and seal the deal in the third period. Well, they did, and they did it with an exclamation point.

Sharp, Brookbank, and Leddy accounted for the Hawks’ first three goals last night, with Leddy’s coming on the powerplay. Then just under three minutes into the third, Brandon Saad pulled of a beautiful spin-o-rama, behind the back pass to Patrick Kane that resulted in a tap in goal for Kane. Easily the prettiest goal of the year up to this point for the Blackhawks. About six minutes after that, it was Brandon Saad again, this time scoring his own highlight reel goal after receiving a perfect pass from Duncan Keith. This put the Hawks up 5-1, and it remained that way for the rest of the game.

So here are my observations from last night’s game:

  • Brandon Saad is without a doubt a top six forward on this team. He’s got all kinds of skill, he’s smart, and he is responsible defensively. Looks like he and Kane have developed some chemistry together as well, which never hurts. 
  • Brandon Pirri finally got his first crack at centering the second line with Michal Handzus scratched for the game. I’ve been calling on Quenneville to make this move for a while now, and finally it happened. Pirri finished the game with two assists (all three players on that line had two points in the game), and now has 5 points in 7 games since being brought up to the NHL.
  • Sheldon Brookbank is making a strong case to be the Blackhawks’ number six defenseman. This is three games in a row now that he has played really, really well. His goal last night didn’t hurt either.
  • Corey Crawford had a nice bounce back game after giving up 5 goals to the Wild on Saturday night. He really made some big stops through the first two periods to keep the game close.
  • The powerplay scored again. I believe that’s five straight games now with a powerplay goal. Compare that to last season, and I’ll take it. There are still times when they don’t shoot enough, but last night was better.
  • Banner-Raising-2013-1600Sharp finally scored. He’s got just two goals on the year now, but maybe last night’s goal will get him going. He seems to be a streaky scorer based on his past.

If the Hawks can figure out how to play every game like they did last night, then they should be just fine moving forward.

Getting back to Brandon Pirri, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as soon as he joined the second line, all three forwards had a great game and totaled six points combined. Michal Handzus, love him or hate him, is not a second line center, especially on this team. He is way too old and slow and doesn’t have the skill. He is good for winning faceoffs and that’s pretty much it. I honestly don’t see a place for him on this team on a nightly basis. He might be okay as a “plug-in” player who might play every 4 games or so, but he’s not good enough to play every game as the Hawks had hoped coming into this season. Guys like Pirri, Smith, and Morin should not be taken out of the lineup to make room for ‘Zus.

Speaking of Jeremy Morin, he has looked really good since being recalled prior to Saturday night’s game. He has really improved his game since last season and looks like he’s here to stay. Brad Mills has also looked good in his first two games with the Hawks. Looks like he may have found a home on the PK with Marcus Kruger.

Tonight, the Blackhawks take on the Senators at the UC. Ottawa is 3-5-2 in their last ten games and has struggled here in the early part of the season. I’m expecting a Hawks’ victory tonight.

That’s all for now.


Blackhawks invade Florida

Ben Smith, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Brandon Bollig, Brandon PirriTonight the Blackhawks will take the ice in Sunrise, Florida against a very mediocre Panthers team. Then on Thursday, the Hawks will be in Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning for what should be a good game. Coming into tonight’s game, the Blackhawks should feel pretty confident after the way they handled the Toronto Maple Leafs in their last game on Saturday night.

The Leafs came into that game playing pretty well with a record of of 6-2-0. The Blackhawks came into that game coming off of a loss at home to the St. Louis Blues in a shootout. Needless to say, they weren’t playing very well leading up to Saturday night. However, the Hawks absolutely dominated the Maple Leafs and won by a final of 3-1. The game was not as close as the score might indicate. The Blackhawks controlled to puck almost the entire night and put 40 shots on goal, compared to Toronto’s 20 shots.

I saw a few different very encouraging signs in that game.

  • Brandon Pirri looked really good again and scored for the second game in a row, this goal coming on the powerplay. He also added an assist. The more playing time he gets, the better Pirri is looking.
  • Michael Kostka had a couple of grade-A scoring chances early on in the game, and finally found the back of the net in the second period for his first career goal. The puck just seemed to be finding him in good spots all night long.
  • Corey Crawford was solid again. If anyone was still unsure about him even after he won the Hawks the Cup last season, they should realize now that Crawford is the real deal.
  • Bryan Bickell finally recorded his first goal of the season. The Hawks could really benefit from him getting hot. Now, the pressure is on Shaw to get his first goal.

Going back to Pirri, if he can stay consistent on the offensive side and continue to improve his defensive game, he will find himself as the number 2 center on this team. I’ve been saying it all year, and I’m sticking to it. He has the skill to play on that line with Sharp and now Kane, but it’s his defensive game that is holding him back at the moment.

Something concerning that I want to bring up is the amount of ice time that certain players are and are not receiving. Jonathan Toews on Saturday night played 23:08. That was good mike-madduxfor third on the team behind Keith and Seabrook. Meanwhile, Bollig (5:27), Nordstrom (7:42), and Pirri (9:37) were all on the ice for less than 10 minutes. Yes, they were the fourth line, but this is the time of year to spread out the minutes. You don’t want your top players like Toews, Kane, Sharp, or Hossa to be logging anymore minutes than they need to be right now, especially coming off of a very short offseason. I noticed Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp all playing full shifts near the end of the game against Toronto with a 3-1 lead. If Quenneville has such little confidence in his lower lines’ ability to hang onto a two goal lead with only a few minutes left, then those guys shouldn’t be on the team. There are going to be players who you limit in close games, but more than once this year the Hawks’ top players have gotten too much ice time. If Brandon Bollig is only worth 5:27 of ice time, then why is he on this team?

Changing subjects, the Blackhawks sent Joakim Nordstrom back to Rockford on Sunday. No one was recalled from the Icehogs. This pretty much ensures that Ben Smith will be in the lineup on a nightly basis from now on barring injury. Nordstrom wasn’t bad while with the Hawks, but he wasn’t doing anything that stood out. Plus, the organization wants him to get more ice time down in Rockford than he would in Chicago. He could very well end up back in the NHL at some point this season.

That’s all for now.

Cubs’ managerial options


                          Theo Epstein

After managing the Cubs for just two seasons, Dale Sveum was fired by the team a few weeks back for his lack of player development. While that was an issue with Sveum, I don’t know that I totally agree with the Cubs’ decision to fire him after just two seasons in which he was given two crap teams to work with. I guess in the minds of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the regression shown by Castro and Rizzo this season was enough to let Sveum go. So that leaves the Cubs without a manager right now, and many, myself included, are speculating as to who might be the team’s next skipper.

It was no secret that if Epstein had his way, he was going to hire Joe Girardi to manage the Cubs. Unfortunately, Giriardi decided to re-sign with the Yankees for four more years due to family reasons. With that, we can take him off the list of potential managers. The candidates left on that list are, and in my opinion should be (in no particular order):

  • A.J. Hinch
  • Manny Acta
  • Rick Renteria
  • Tony Pena
  • Dave Martinez
  • Mike Maddux
  • Brad Ausmus

Personally, I would like to see either Tony Pena, Mike Maddux, or Manny Acta hired as the Cubs’ new manager. Dave Martinez, currently the Rays bench coach, is not a bad option either, but honestly I don’t know enough about him.

Some may be surprised by the name Tony Pena. Here’s why I like him:

  • He has managerial experience. From 2002-2005, he was the manager in Kansas City. He won the 2003 AL Manager of the Year award.
  • He has been Joe Girardi’s bench coach in New York since 2009 (Yankees won the World Series that year).
  • He is a former catcher.
  • He is Dominican/Hispanic.

The Cubs want someone who has experience managing at the Major League level. If they hire a rookie manager, then they’d be going down the same road they went with Dale Sveum and his firing would seem pointless. Pena has that experience, and while his tony-pena-540x362record in Kansas City wasn’t great, he proved he can do the job by turning that team around in 2003 and winning AL Manager of the Year. I think being on Girardi’s staff in New York and winning the World Series there is a good credential as well. Also, the fact that he is a former Major League catcher (and a very good one) is a bonus in my eyes. Catchers have always been looked at as being the smartest baseball players because of their responsibilities behind the plate every single game. Add in the fact that Pena won four Gold Gloves as a catcher, and you have yourself a premier catcher who knows the game inside and out. My point about him being Hispanic is a very valid point. The Cubs are developing a number of top baseball prospects at the moment. Two of their top minor league prospects, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, as well as current Major Leaguer Starlin Castro, are all Hispanic (granted, Almora was born here in the U.S., but he is still Hispanic). Plus the fact that more and more Hispanic players are entering the MLB and are becoming the league’s best players gives even more reason to hire a Hispanic manager. I feel Pena might be able to connect better with Hispanic players and prospects more than some other managers.

1306350614Manny Acta is another candidate that I wouldn’t mind seeing hired as the Cubs’ manager. He has managed the Nationals and Indians in the past, and won the 2007 NL Manager of the Year award, as well as the 2011 AL Manager of the Year Award. Like Tony Pena, Acta is from the Dominican Republic and would have that instant connection with Hispanic players.

A wild card shot here, and a very intriguing candidate is Mike Maddux, the current pitching coach of the Texas Rangers. Maddux was a candidate back mike-madduxbefore the 2012 season after the Cubs fired Mike Quade as well. He is a former pitcher and has ties to the Cubs organization as his younger brother, Greg, was a pretty good pitcher for the North Siders back in the early 90’s and then again from 2004-2006. Some believe that if Mike is hired as the Cubs’ manager, he may bring on Greg to be part of his coaching staff. I would be perfectly fine with that scenario. The one major drawback to hiring Mike Maddux would be the fact that he has zero managing experience at any professional level.

Clearly, there are a number of ways the Cubs could go here in addition to the possibilities that I just mentioned. One question I have, however, is this: Are the Cubs looking to hire the manager that will be here when they “go for it” and try to win the World Series, or are they looking for another temporary manager like Dale Sveum who will run the team until they feel they can compete? The answer to that question lies within the amount of confidence Epstein and Hoyer have in their current prospects. If they feel it may be another three years before the top dogs are ready to be brought up to the Major League level, then they may go the “Dale Sveum route.” If Epstein and Hoyer believe the Cubs are just another year or two away from competing, then we’ll see them hire a more proven manager.

I’m looking forward to this decision.

Another one goal game for the Blackhawks

Banner-Raising-2013-1600So far, the Blackhawks have played six games this season. After last night’s 3-2 shootout win over the Hurricanes, five of those six games have have been decided by just one goal. Against the Lightning and Blues, the Hawks lost by one goal. When they played the Islanders, Sabres, and now Hurricanes, the Hawks won by one goal. It is a theme that I would like to see come to an end, and I am sure the Blackhawks feel the same way. When games are won by just one goal, that means the other team had a good shot at winning the game as well.

The Blackhawks got off to a great start in the first period against the Hurricanes. Goals by Sharp and Hossa put the Hawks up 2-0 with just under half the period left to play. The period would end 2-0 in favor of the Blackhawks, but the Hawks were able to get 15 shots on goal in the first compared to just 5 for the Canes. It looked as though this would be a runaway victory for the Blackhawks because of how dominant they were during the first 20 minutes of play. Then the second period came.

In the second, you could easily argue that Carolina was the better team. They totaled 13 shots on goal, while the Hawks had 8. Corey Crawford came up with a number of good saves, and the period ended still 2-0.

Then in the third period, there is no question that the Hurricanes were the much better team. They registered 2 goals on 10 shots in the period to tie the game and send it to overtime.

In OT, Bryan Bickell took a hooking penalty to send the Hurricanes on a two-minute powerplay. The Blackhawks penalty kill, which has been looking better and better, came up huge and killed off the penalty. Some key shot-blocks by the Blackhawks and big saves by Crawford kept the Hurricanes from scoring and sent the game to a shootout.

In the shootout, Patrick Sharp was the only player on either team to score, and the Blackhawks walked away with the extra point.

Here’s what I saw in last night’s game:

  • The Blackhawks got off to another really good start in the game, as they have almost every game this season, but were never able to score that big third goal to go up 3-0. This has been the issue in four of the Hawks’ six games now, and they need to find a way to get that important put-away goal before letting the opposition back into the game like they did last night. A two-goal lead is a very dangerous lead to have in a game because teams start to let off the gas peddle a bit, when really they should be doing everything they can to get the three-goal lead. All of a sudden when you’re up by two, the other team scores to get within one and then they’ve got all the momentum and end up tying the game.
  • mount-kilimanjaro-locationofficial-address-and-locations-kilimanjaro-climbing-expeditions-rbhlatxdCorey Crawford was really good again for the Blackhawks. You could call last night’s win a “goalie win.”
  • The pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya is becoming one of the best number two pairings in the game. Right now, Quenneville is using them as his number one pairing until Keith and Seabrook can figure out how to defend again. Hammer and Oduya look to be locks on the Swedish Olympic team.
  • Bryan Bickell is back to being the Bickell we all knew until last year’s playoffs. I think it’s time to accept the fact that he is a playoff performer, and until then, expect him to be a third liner on this team.
  • Michal Handzus continues to be one of the slowest guys on the ice. That isn’t going to change. Brandon Pirri was scratched last night, and I want to see him in the lineup more and more moving forward until he takes over Handzus’ spot. He can be really valuable on this team if he gets enough playing time.

I am not going to get too worked up over the Blackhawks’ inability to put teams away so far this season. Odds are, they’ll start scoring the big third and fourth goals with the talent and skill that they have in their lineup. It seems inevitable to me.

Tomorrow night is another big showdown with the Blues, this time at the United Center. All I can say is thank God Maxim Lapierre won’t be in St. Louis’ lineup. After the hit he put on Dan Boyle last night, he should be suspended for at least the next 20 games. The problem with the Blues is they have a number of guys who aren’t afraid to risk being suspended in order to make an illegal hit. They’re full of losers like that.

Blackhawks take four weekend points

184164326_slideOn Friday night, it was the Islanders who tried to take over the United Center. Their mission was unsuccessful as the Blackhawks won that game by a final score of 3-2. Then on Saturday in the second night of back-to-back games for the Hawks, the 0-4-1 Sabres looked to notch their first victory of the season in Chicago, but they came up short as well, losing 2-1. While the Blackhawks only won by one goal in both games, they really outplayed both New York and Buffalo for the majority of their respective games.

The Blackhawks outshot the Islanders 28-19 on Friday night, and really controlled the puck possession for most of the night. Some good goaltending by Kevin Poulin held the Hawks to just 3 goals on the night, but they generated a number of quality scoring chances.

Saturday night was some more of the same by the Blackhawks, as they only won by one goal, but dominated against the Sabres from start to finish. Ryan Miller was fantastic on the night, stopping 38 of the 40 shots that the Blackhawks put on net. At times in this game, the Blackhawks looked like they had one or two extra players on the ice. They had a number of dominating shifts in which the puck stayed in Buffalo’s end for a good 30-60 seconds at a time. Basically, the Hawks were skating circles around the Sabres pretty much the whole night.

182616912_slideNikolai Khabibulin looked good in his first start of the season on Friday night. He stopped 17 of the 19 shots that the Islanders took, and came up with a few huge saves near the end of regulation to secure the Blackhawks’ victory. The only noticeable weak spot with Khabi was his puck-handling behind the net. He had one really bad turnover that nearly resulted in an Islanders goal. All in all though, he looked good.

What had been a major weakness through the first 3 games for the Blackhawks was the opposite in both games this weekend. The Blackhawks’ penalty was a perfect  5 for 5, and they looked pretty decent in killing off all 5 penalties. Still, their penalty kill is a work in progress, but it is definitely progressing.

Michal Handzus, who started as the number two center on Friday, saw his role rapidly decrease as that game moved on. By the end, he was on the fourth line and finished with a total of 9:17 of playing time. Saturday night he was a healthy scratch. This is something to keep an eye on moving forward. Handzus is old and not very skilled. He is not a typical number two center, which is what the Blackhawks have been asking him to be. Because of his lack of speed and skill, he has been dragging down the play of Sharp and Hossa at times on the second line, therefore resulting in his role reduction. If Handzus can’t figure things out, he could find himself with a permanent limited role on this team, similar to Jamal Mayers last season.

Jimmy Hayes was sent back to Rockford late Friday night, and Brandon Pirri was recalled to Chicago. Hayes, who looked great in training camp and the preseason, just didn’t look like the same guy once the regular season started. He has the skill, size, and ability to be a really good power forward in the NHL, but at times it seems as though he’s afraid to be aggressive. He doesn’t seem to use his size to his advantage nearly enough, and that has resulted in him being demoted back to the AHL. However, that’s not the only reason he was sent back down to Rockford.

With the decrease in Handzus’ role over the first four games, the Blackhawks found themselves in need of another center to replace ‘Zus. They therefore brought up Brandon Banner-Raising-2013-1600Pirri, who is much faster and much more skilled than Handzus. In order to make room for Pirri, the Hawks chose to send down Hayes. So while Hayes didn’t impress anyone in the two games that he played, he was also the victim of an unfortunate circumstance in which an open roster spot was needed on the Blackhawks to accommodate Pirri. Watch for Brandon Pirri to slowly work his way into the number two center position between Sharp and Hossa. This is what the Blackhawks ultimately want to have happen, but it is up to Pirri to play his way into that position.

One big positive to take away from the two games over the weekend, and really from all 5 games up to this point, is the Blackhawks’ powerplay. They notched another PP goal against the Sabres, and are now 5-20 on the season (25%). That’s good for 8th in the league. When you compare that to where their PP ended last season and in the playoffs, this is a nice improvement. They are doing a much better job at entering the offensive zone, and they are getting a lot more movement from everyone once they have themselves set up. Last year was a bunch of standing around waiting for the puck. So far this season, guys are a lot more active for the Hawks on the powerplay, and it is helping the results. Hopefully this continues and improves as we progress through the season.

Another positive that I saw from these last two games was the emergence of Joakim Nordstrom. It’s amazing what scoring one goal can do for a guy. Nordstrom scored his first NHL goal on Friday night, and that seemed to give him a world of confidence for the remainder of that game and the next game. He was a lot more patient with the puck and did not hesitate to shoot when he had the chance. This is a real good sign for the Hawks moving forward.

Coming up this week, the Blackhawks head to Carolina on Tuesday night, then come back home for games against St. Louis and Toronto on Thursday and Saturday night, respectively. Dave Bolland will be making his first trip back to Chicago in that game on Saturday night.

Blackhawks fall in St. Louis

183849298_slideComing into this one, many people were saying that these were arguably the two best teams in the Western Conference. Some were even saying that this is the year the Blues bring home their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Well after watching tonight’s game between the Blues and Blackhawks, these might be the top two teams in the West, but I’m not on board with calling the Blues Stanley Cup favorites.

It’s no secret that these two teams dislike each other. Their past battles against one another have gotten ugly a number of times, and tonight featured a little bit of that as well. Sheldon Brookbank and Chris Stewart dropped the gloves just a few minutes into the game, and it looked like there were a few more fights that were in the developing stages before the refs intervened. Adding to the ongoing bad blood between these two teams was Maxim Lapierre when he hit Andrew Shaw from behind into the side boards. He was given a two minute minor, and the Hawks scored on the ensuing powerplay. All that hit did was reinforce the fact that the Blues are loaded with a bunch of clowns who try to hurt people without caring at all. Lapierre has been known to illegally hit guys his whole career, and he is showing no signs of stopping. Barrett Jackman is also another standout loser on that team.

Tonight I thought the Blackhawks looked quite good actually. I thought they played well enough to win the game. They had a number of quality scoring chances in this one, especially early on, but Jaroslav Halak was on top of his game and kept the Hawks to just two goals. Patrick Sharp looked like he was destined for a goal in this one, but never found the back of the net.

The Hawks got two more powerplay goals tonight. That’s four in their first three games to start the season. If you compare their powerplay right now to the way it was during the playoffs, it is much better today.

The penalty kill remains a weakness up to this point. The Blackhawks allowed another powerplay goal against tonight, bringing that total to five over these first few games. Last season, the penalty kill of the Blackhawks was among the best in the league. The loss of Michael Frolik is really being felt early on in this season. Of the Blackhawks that were traded away or signed with another team this past offseason, Frolik seems to be the biggest loss.

What makes tonight’s loss so frustrating is the fact that the Blackhawks played a really good game for the first 59 minutes, and they probably should have been winning had it not been for Halak. When you play that good of a game on the road in a hostile environment, you can’t mess up like they did with 25 seconds to go and cost yourselves the two points.

Jonathan Toews had the puck to Halak’s left looking for either a pass into the slot, or a shooting lane to the net. He ended up trying to shoot and his shot was blocked. The problem here was that Brent Seabrook abandoned his spot on the blue line and decided to pinch down towards the net. When Toews’ shot got blocked, the Blues quickly transitioned from offense to defense and Alex Steen led a good rush up the ice with two other Blues players. Because Seabrook pinched on the play and wound up way out of position, only Duncan Keith was back on defense to try and defend a three on one. Steen never passed the puck and took a wicked slap shot that beat Corey Crawford for the winning goal with 21 seconds left in regulation.

Joel Quenneville was clearly upset at how this one ended based on his words to the media after the game. He called this a “brutal loss,” and said “you can’t make a mistake like that.” Jonathan Toews said that they were “robbed of two points” tonight. I’d have to agree with both Coach Q and Toews.

Moving forward, the biggest thing for the Hawks is going to be tightening up on their PK. They need to start getting more successful kills. One way to eliminate powerplay goals-against is to stop taking so many penalties. The Blackhawks were one of the least penalized teams in the league last year, and that was a huge reason for their success.

Aside from that, they really have looked good through the first three games. Tonight was definitely a tough one to swallow, but you can still take a lot of good things from tonight’s loss. Without a doubt, the Blackhawks will be more than ready for their rematch with the Blues next Thursday night back at the UC.

Thanks for reading.

Pirates one win from NLCS

hi-res-182619146-jason-grilli-and-russell-martin-of-the-pittsburgh_crop_exactWith today’s win over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates moved to within one win from advancing to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 1992. And how fitting that they decided to wait 21 years until possibly making their return trip to the LCS. Any Pirate or Roberto Clemente fan understands what I mean.

After collapsing during the second half of the season each of the last 2 years, the Pirates finally finished this regular season strong and clinched a birth into the National League Wild Card Game. There, they defeated the Cincinnati Reds in front of a sold out, electric crowd to advance to the NLDS against the Cardinals.

In Game 1 against St. Louis, A.J. Burnett had a tough outing and the Pirates lost 9-1. It looked like it may be a rough ending to Pittsburgh’s season. However, the Bucs came back in Game 2 and won 7-1, sending the series back to Pittsburgh dead-locked at 1 apiece.

In today’s Game 3 in front of the largest crowd ever at PNC Park, the Pirates won by a final score of 5-3 in what was a very close, nerve-racking game for any fan of either team. Game 4 will be played tomorrow afternoon, and with a win, the Pirates will advance to the NLCS.

Once the Pirates clinched a postseason birth, I have been pulling for them since. This is a team that had the fourth lowest payroll in baseball heading into the 2013 season, and they are full of scrappy, hard working players that just want to win. They aren’t the Yankees who buy their way to success every year, and they aren’t a team full of hot-headed players who only care about themselves. The Pirates are the definition of what a baseball team should be.

Marlon Byrd, who was acquired after the trade deadline by the Pirates, has turned out to be a huge acquisition for Pittsburgh. Since the All Star break, Byrd hit .318 with a .357 OBP and a .486 SLG percentage. Today, Byrd was 2-3 with 2 RBI, 1 walk, and 1 run scored.

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 10_51_05 AMRussell Martin, acquired last off season by the Pirates, could arguably be this team’s MVP up to this point in the playoffs. It was Martin who had the 2 home runs in the Wild Card game against Cincinnati, and it was Martin again who had 2 key RBI’s in today’s 5-3 victory.

A.J. Burnett will likely be tomorrow’s starter for the Pirates, and hopefully he’ll have a nice bounce-back game after his Game 1 meltdown. I would like nothing more than for the Pirates to clinch the NLDS in front of their home fans tomorrow. Pittsburgh fans are some of the most knowledgeable fans in baseball, and finally they have something to cheer about.

A banner night

013-OPENING_NIGHT-_BS29814-sent-SMALLWhat a night it was on Tuesday as the Blackhawks kicked off their regular season by raising their 2013 Stanley Cup championship banner, and then proceeded to beat the Capitals 6-4 in what was a thrilling game. I was lucky enough to be there, and it was a night that I’ll never forget.

The festivities began outside the United Center on Madison Street, where the Blackhawks held their annual “Red Carpet” event in which all of the Blackhawks players arrived in limos and proceeded to walk down a red carpet into the stadium. Fans lined the red carpet and cheered on the players as they walked by. Many players high-fived the fans as they made their way into the stadium.

As for the banner ceremony itself, let’s just say it will be tough for any team to beat. Every 002-OPENING_NIGHT-rc_br_0148-sent-SMALLfan was given a wristband with a computer chip and LED lights inside of it. These wristbands then all lit up in unison as the ceremony began and were synced to the different songs and moments of the ceremony. I had never seen anything like this before, and I have to say it was amazing. Along with the wristbands, the United Center ice was used as a mega wide-screen TV as video clips and pictures were projected onto the ice during the ceremony.

Duncan Keith was the first player introduced, and he skated onto the ice with Lord Stanley in hands before placing it on a small table at center ice. Jonathan Toews, the last player introduced, skated to and lifted the Cup up over his head one last time before setting it back on the table.

The banner was presented by a group of youth hockey players who were supposed to signify the Blackhawks when they were kids, as well as the future Blackhawks players. After taking a team photo with the banner hanging behind them, it slowly ascended to the United Center rafters where it will remain forever. It was a very emotional, yet cool ceremony.

Once the banner ceremony ended, there was a game to be played.

182616912_slideBrandon Bollig, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Brandon Saad, Johnny Oduya, and Marian Hossa scored the Blackhawks’ six goals in the game. Mikhail Grabovski recorded a hat trick for the Capitals, and Alex Ovechkin scored their other goal.

All in all, the Blackhawks played a decent game against Washington. Corey Crawford looked a bit shaky early on, but came up with some massive saves late in the third period while the Capitals had a 5 on 3 powerplay. The offense of the Blackhawks looked pretty unstoppable, just like they did last season. Not much is different there compared to last year’s team. Depth-wise, I think it will take some time to figure out just how deep this team is. I’m not sure that Tuesday night’s fourth line will be the same fourth line that we will see in another 2-3 months. Joakim Nordstrom looked just okay in his first NHL game, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses.

The biggest weakness that I saw from the Blackhawks against the Capitals was their penalty kill. The Hawks allowed 3 powerplay goals to the Caps, which is something that almost never happened last season. Granted, Washington had the league’s best powerplay just a season ago, but the Blackhawks also had the NHL’s third best penalty kill. Joakim Nordstrom was handed the assignment of replacing Michael Frolik on the Hawks’ top PK unit with Marcus Kruger, and it was obvious that this was something Nordstrom will have to get used to.

More than once, I noticed Kruger and then Rozsival pulling Nordstrom aside and giving him directions and advice as to what to do while on the PK. Even during the middle of the action, Marcus Kruger could be seen waving Nordstrom to skate at the puck-carrier for Washington. It will be a work in progress with Nordstrom on their top penalty killing unit, and hopefully it will work itself out.

I still think it is too early to really gauge how good the Hawks will be this year. Opening night is sometimes misleading because teams are still rusty and getting used to playing real games. However, I will say that the Blackhawks will once again be a top team in the NHL this year, and they have a very solid chance at repeating as Stanley Cup champions.

Their next game is Saturday night at home against the Lightning.