As the new year begins, the Blackhawks are facing significant questions for the first time in a decade. Their leadership, which has been so good over the past ten years, now has a bullseye on them after Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook disappointed last season.
On paper, fans could be thankful that the Hawks got to start the season against a team many picked to finish dead last in the league this year, the Ottawa Senators. Unfortunately, there’s a reason the games need to be played.
When the dust settled, the Blackhawks and their leaders opened the 2018-19 season with a bang in Ottawa on Thursday night.
Chicago started the game well. Alex DeBrincat scored the first goal of the 2018-19 regular season.
As was the case last year, the lead didn’t last very long. Zack Smith tied the game 2:07 later, taking advantage of sloppy play in the Hawks’ defensive end.
Four minutes later, Toews gave the Hawks the lead again with his first of the new year.
As was the case last year, the lead didn’t last very long. Maxime Lajoie tied the game with his first career NHL goal only 96 seconds after the Toews goal. Once again, sloppy play in the Hawks’ defensive end left Cam Ward on the losing end of a shot.
Another glaring issue last year was the Blackhawks’ special teams. Colin White gave Ottawa a 3-2 lead with a power play goal late in the first period. So… we haven’t addressed that as much as fans would hope.
At the end of 20 minutes, the box score was bloated. Chicago had an 18-10 shot advantage but trailed on the scoreboard.
The second period came and went without either team scoring a goal. Ward looked better, the Hawks were better in their defensive zone, but they couldn’t beat Craig Anderson to tie the game.
In the third period the line blender started working overtime and the Hawks found an answer for Anderson. It came from a familiar place, too. Kane set up Seabrook with a pretty pass and the veteran defenseman rifled home the tying goal.
The third period ended with both team picking up a point in the standings.
Chicago didn’t want to go home with only one point, and the leaders stepped up again.
Toews hit Kane with a lead pass and 88 knew what to do. He scored the game-winner only 38 seconds into overtime to send the fans in Ottawa home with a loss.
Toews had a dominant performance in what we all hope is a bounce-back season. He had one goal and the assist on Kane’s GWG to cap a plus-three night. He won 20 of 29 at the dot, blocked one shot and one takeaway. The Captain put four shots on net in 19:30.
Kane skated 23:49 to lead the Hawks’ forwards. He also led the team with six shots on net and matched Toews’ two points in the game.
Henri Jokiharju made his NHL debut and skated 19:13, the third-highest ice total among Hawks’ defensemen. He led the blue line group with three hits and put three shots on net.
Dominik Kahun also made his NHL debut. He was limited to 13:14 on the ice but put two shots on net and finished plus-two in the game.
Other than Toews, the Blackhawks struggled at the dot. Nick Schmaltz won only three of 14 faceoffs, Luke Johnson won one of six and Artem Anisimov won half of his 20 attempts.
Ward struggled in the first period when he allowed three goals but looked much better as the night went on. He was strong in the third period and the offense rewarded him with a victory. He stopped 22 of 25 on the night.
Overall, it’s good to get a win in the books. The Hawks improved as the night went on, but there’s a lot to work on going forward. But if the core can stand up the way they did on Thursday night throughout this season, Chicago will compete.