Chicago Blackhawks play by play announcer Pat Foley mentioned it at the beginning of the broadcast. Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Antti Niemi, their starter for the night, tripped while leading his team onto the ice for warmups.
Who knew it was a portent for the pain the Penguins were in for the night.
In a span of 2:55 in the first period, Niemi was victimized four times by three Blackhawks (Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, Brandon Saad twice). Matt Murray came in, hoping to staunch the bleeding, but was beat by a wrister from Patrick Sharp late in the first.
Penguins sniper Phil Kessel did make it 5-1, potting in a pass from Sidney Crosby on a 5 on 3. But it was the last thing the Penguins did well for the night. Patrick Kane backhanded a beauty of a goal on an odd man rush, followed by tallies from Richard Panik and Schmaltz. Saad completed the hattrick in the third period, and Brent Seabrook’s late goal made for a 10-goal shellacking of the back to back defending Stanley Cup champions. The last time the Hawks scored 10 goals in one game was way back in 1988.
Corey Crawford was solid on net, turning away 28 out of 29 shots he faced. Saad’s hatty the second one of his career, as well as only the second time a Blackhawk tallied one in the first game of the season. Bobby Hull achieved that feat against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 23, 1965. Also lost in the goal explosion by the Blackhawks was Sharp netting his 600th career point with his late goal in the first. All in all, nine different Blackhawks players scored at least a point.
Kneel Before Saad
To say that Saad’s homecoming was a success is a complete understatement. Saad was flying all nightt.And all three goals he scored had one common denominator: he was crashing the net. When you see the Man Child barrelling towards you, you as a goalie take notice. Niemi and Murray never had the chance. His physicality and his willingness to go to the net and sacrifice life and limb to get the greasy goals is what has been missing in Chicago’s game these past two years, and thank god its back.
A talking point that the hockey pundits kept repeating all off season long was how Patrick Kane would perform without his Russian linemate Artemi Panarin. Will Kane miss Panarin’s dynamism? Will Kane find a new line partner that he will mesh with as well as he did with the Bread Man? Will Kane be the same player, or was Panarin carrying him all along?
Well, Kane answered those questions in spades tonight, tallying one goal and three assists. His new linemates, Schmaltz and Hartman, combined for three goals and five assists. Kane’s chemistry with Schmaltz and Harmtan was eminent whenever they were on the attack.
No need for the Blender?
There are actually three constants in life; death, taxes, and Q’s blender. Whenever the Blackhawks are having trouble igniting some offense, head coach Joel Quenneville is always there to create some with his mixing of line combos. But, if tonight’s game is any indication, Q might be bring out the blender less this season.
The chemistry between the Captain and Saad is still there. And the physicality of Panik complements that. Artem Anisimov and Sharp seemed to have developed a connection of their own during training camp. Anisimov’s blocked shot and subsequent pass sprung Sharpy into the breakaway and to his late goal in the first. Either Alex DeBrincat or Hartman will provide some added offensive power to that line. Even the fourth line contributed tonight. John Hayden proved tonight that he deserves being in the big leagues, making smart plays and using his big body on the penalty kill.
My Three Stars:
1. Brandon Saad – hattrick
2. Ryan Hartman – 1 G, 4 A
3. Nick Schmaltz – 2 G, 1 A
Injury Note: Both Schmaltz and Tanner Kero left the game. Q, in his presser, said both were fine, even going as far as saying thay Schmaltz will “more than likely” be ready for Saturday’s tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets.