If you watched any of the games between the Blackhawks and Avalanche last year, an easy ending was the furthest thing from your mind.
If Marty Turco expected to face fewer shots in Chicago than he did in Dallas…
Despite allowing a soft game-winner to Paul Stastny in overtime, Turco kept a sloppy Blackhawks team in the game. He faced 41 shots, allowing four to get past him (.902 save percentage). And even though the last one that slipped through his armpit wasn’t pretty, he made a number of big saves that kept the game close.
Beyond Turco, there were a number of storylines that began to emerge that could make Saturday night an intriguing second chapter.
The biggest, and most noticeable, was following the baby Blackhawk in his debut. Nick Leddy, 19, was skating with Niklas Hjalmarsson in the Hawks top four less than 18 months after picking up his high school diploma.
Early in the first period, Leddy let a bouncing puck get past him and he took his time going after it. Two sprinting Avs players left him in their dust, and Chris Stewart scored on Turco. Leddy has been touted as one of the better skating defense prospects to come out in the last couple years, and he clearly took the pace of the NHL game for granted.
To the credit of coach Joel Quenneville, Leddy was right back on the ice under a minute later. He looked tentative in the first period, getting lost behind the play a lot and waiting for the puck to find him.
Early in the second period, though, you could tell through the television that someone in the locker room told him he had the green light. He started to join the rush a little faster, carry the puck in deeper, and even carried the puck into a token one-on-three break during a line change. Leddy was starting to handle the reality of the NHL game. In the third, Leddy looked comfortable and capable, certainly worthy of an NHL roster spot (more than Jordan Hendry). Indeed, it might now be safe to say the Hawks got the better half of last year’s trade that sent Cam Barker to Minnesota.
In total for the night, Leddy skated 19:21, was credited with three shots, one hit and one takeaway. He was minus-one, and that was lost because he was on the ice for the game-winner.
Early in the night it was easy to get down on Leddy. By the end, his bandwagon was overflowing with applications.
The other intriguing story that developed was the new fourth line of Jack Skille, Jake Dowell (both of whom were on the National Championship team at Wisconsin) and Viktor Stalberg. After a preseason that started slowly for Skille and Stalberg, and the questions about whether or not they had earned a roster spot in front of a kid like Jeremy Morin, both played well on Thursday night. The line looked fast and physical, and Stalberg had a couple nice opportunities around the net. Stalberg and Dowell ended the night minus-one each, but the three combined to put five shots on net.
In the game, Tomas Kopecky, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp had two points each, including goals for Hossa and Sharp. Bryan Bickell scored the first goal of the year for the defending champions.
Duncan Keith skated 33:39, a number that must come down. While overtime can be seen as an excuse for the high total, Keith was over 20 minutes at the end of the second period. Brent Seabrook was on the ice for 28:22, also a bigger number than preferred, and was credited with two hits. Hjalmarsson led the team with three blocked shots, while Hendry and John Scott were only on the ice for 5:33 and 6:58, respectively.
Chemistry will come with time, and this group certainly looked as fast (faster?) than last year’s team. The great consolation for a tough loss: the one point puts the Blackhawks into first place in the Central Division!