What 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 fan 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.
Brandon 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.