The festivities: As the scoreboard played a reminiscent video of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup run a year ago, players wearing that iconic Indian head sweater locked arms out near center ice. The sold out sea of red at the United Center began to show some of that energy that makes the United Center a special place. Roars could be heard from outside on Madison as the team was introduced. The deafening cheers of 22,158 fans during Jim Cornelison’s iconic national anthem rendition. Everything in those mere 20 minutes of celebration encompassed what the Chicago Blackhawks are all about.
What we learned:
- This is the same Blackhawks team that we have seen in the past. The explosive offensive attack showed that this is a team capable of putting up 3-plus goals each game with ease. All you have to do is look at the depth of scoring. Depth on paper is one thing, but actually getting the points is another. Third and fourth line guys had goals in the opener, Brandon Saad on a pinpoint give-and-go with Michal Handzus, and Brandon Bollig on a rebound to open up the scoring.
- Sticking to that same point of this being a typical Hawks team, the penalty kill and power play were clear areas of concern. The power play went one for four in the game, and missed on some wide-open opportunities. Ill-advised passes led to clears out of the offensive zone, and at points, fundamentals such as keeping the puck on the stick was a concern. Washington’s power play on the other hand was dominant, converting on three of six chances for the game. However, the 5-on-3 defensive unit of Marcus Kruger, Johnny Oduya, and Nicklas Hjalmarsson stepped it up late when it most counted, and secured the victory, and Corey Crawford stole a couple shots away, but it is obvious that these units still need work.
- Grit and determination has not been lost over the offseason. Despite all the celebrating, it remains clear that this team will still be able to battle through adversity and come back from late deficits. The younger guys, Joakim Nordstrom and Michael Kostka, showed signs of struggle, but the Blackhawks culture will teach them to rise up and fight through their struggles. It will take some time for them to adjust to the fast-paced game of the NHL, but just be patient Hawks fans.
What the media says: The media says that this will be the team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, the first to do so since the 97’-98’ Red Wings. Honestly, what’s there not to like about this team? Sure the special teams are an issue, and maybe even goaltending, but the Blackhawks have all the intangibles and capability to win consecutive cups.
What to expect: This team is not going to look too different from what we saw tonight. Expect the penalty kill to improve steadily as the season moves on. Expect there to be continued struggles on right-hand side face-offs. Overall though, this type of game is what we are going to see out the Blackhawks a lot this year, and fans should be excited about it.