October is here, and that means a few things… pumpkin spice lattes are all the rage, Halloween is fast approaching, and NHL regular season hockey is back!
As all 31 teams opened up play this past week, the Hawks sit at 2-0-1 through three games of the season. For some, this comes as a surprise, for others, they will tell you they imagined this all along.
Regardless, the Hawks opened the season in Ottawa, ON, Canada on Thursday, October 4th, followed by the Blues in St. Louis on the 6th and opening at home on the 7th against Toronto. The Hawks looked consistent through these three games. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all good things though…
In Chicago’s first game against Ottawa, the Blackhawks did not show well defensively in the first period. Five total goals between the two teams.
Chicago nursed a 3-2 deficit into the third period when Brent Seabrook buried a Patrick Kane feed from behind the net to tie the game and eventually send it to overtime. In overtime, Kane took a nice feed from Jonathan Toews, sending him in on a breakaway. Kane backhanded the puck over Craig Anderson’s shoulder and gave Chicago the 4-3 win.
Chicago’s second game against St. Louis began in a similar fashion to the first game. Chicago started the game down to St. Louis 2-0. Jonathan Toews netted his first goal of the game to cut into the deficit. Patrick Kane would also find twine on a wrist shot from the high slot to tie the game 2-2.
Marcus Kruger’s rebound goal gave Chicago the 3-2 advantage in the second period, only for St. Louis to take over at the beginning of the third with two quick goals, giving them a 4-3 lead.
Cam Ward nearly made the save of the year on Vladimir Tarasenko’s second goal of the game. However, the puck just crossed the line enough to count as a good goal.
A few minutes later in the third, Jonathan Toews was able to put in a puck from a Henri Jokiharju point shot to tie the game and ultimately, for the second game in a row (see the trend?) send the game to overtime.
In overtime, a puck bounced around, last touched by Brandon Saad and Jokiharju, ended up on Toews’ stick giving Toews a breakaway. Toews would score low glove side on goaltender Jake Allen and send the Blackhawks home happy, while also capping off the hat trick.
Sunday’s home opener began with a beautiful tribute to Stan Mikita, and the introduction of the 2018-2019 Chicago Blackhawks. The Toronto Maple Leafs came into town with all their pretty toys (Matthews, Tavares and Marner) looking to rebound after a tough loss to Ottawa.
The game opened well for Chicago. The Blackhawks scored two early goals from Toews (his 5th in 3 games) and Debrincat to cap off one of the smoothest passing plays of the NHL season thus far.
Toronto stormed back to tie the game. Matthews found Kapanan to score on a breakaway, and Matthews would then add the second tally.
The game was back and forth all night. The end of the game would be truly memorable. Patrick Kane would score to tie the game at 5 after Chicago was down 5-4 most of the back half of the third period. Less than 30 seconds later, Matthews scored, giving Toronto another lead and would mock Kane’s “showtime, I can’t hear you” celebration. However, it wouldn’t last. Kane put the team on his back and scored with 28 seconds remaining to tie the game, send the game to overtime, and return the celebration to Matthews (where Matthews smiled on the bench).
Unfortunately, Morgan Reilly would score early in overtime to give Toronto the win. Kane’s heroics could not be capitalized on in the extra time.
Chicago is 2-0-1 with 5 points in the standings. But, there is still quite a bit to consider.
Fans are very excited about D Henri Jokiharju. “Joki” for short, has shown glimpses of a top-2 defenseman in the first two games. He has made some rookie mistakes, and fans should expect him to do so, but he has impressed. Head Coach Joel Quenneville gave him a huge compliment, comparing Jokiharju to D Barret Jackman, who won the Calder trophy when with the Blues (where Quenneville was coach at the time).
Quenneville is notoriously known for being over-critical of young defensemen. A compliment such as this carries a lot of weight. Of course, it’s unrealistic to call Jokiharju the savior on the blue line as a rookie, but he could develop into one of the core pieces for this team going forward.
It is worth noting that Jokiharju is leading the NHL in assists, with 5 through three games. He will likely continue to get opportunities to show off what he can do, but don’t expect a 50 point season from the rookie. If he could have a 35 point season and play most of the year in the NHL, that would be a very big win for Chicago.
Where the Hawks Stand
As we stand, the offense has been impressive through three games. 15 goals before today’s game action is good for 3rd in the league. The other two teams ahead of Chicago have played an extra game. However, it won’t last all season, but it’s encouraging to know they can still score at a high clip.
The core has shown up. They haven’t been perfect, but Kane and Toews are both top-10 in league scoring and Seabrook and Keith are playing well. They aren’t playing great, but good enough for now.
The elephants in the room are defense and goaltending. Shaky defense and goaltending is not a recipe for success. Every Stanley Cup winner has a good defense and good, if not great, goaltending. The Blackhawks do not have that right now. Rutta is a pylon, Manning is average at best, Gustafsson is a liability in his own zone and Ward has been horrible to start the year. He could be much worse, but he has not been good at all.
Corey Crawford is supposedly in line to play against Arizona on the 18th, but as a fan, don’t buy into the hype. Even if he is ready to play, he won’t be 100% until he plays some games. He’ll be better than the current situation with Ward, but he won’t be the Vezina level Crawford he’s been in the past, at least not right away. This team still needs to improve defensively to help their goaltending, no matter who is in net.
What are your thoughts through three games? Tweet me @rnldluce, tweet our Blackhawks podcast @fourfeatherspod or our Blackhawks Nation account @BlkHwkNationChi. We want to hear your thoughts on the team! Have question you want answered? Pose them to the podcast or myself and we’ll try to answer it on our next Four Feathers show!
Photo: Paul Vernon/AP Photo