The Chicago Blackhawks’ center depth experienced a scare Thursday, probably the only negative development in a 10-1 season-opening win over Pittsburgh. But it appears everything will be OK for Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero.
The last thing the Chicago Blackhawks needed in a season-opening 10-1 thumping of the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins was for players to go down with injuries. Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero, however, could not avoid that fate.
Good news, though: Coach Joel Quenneville said after the game that both guys are likely to play Saturday against Columbus.
Quenneville deemed Schmaltz as “fine” and Kero as “probably fine.” Schmaltz’s injury was most noticeable and feared, as he needed help getting to the dressing room in the third period when play had become chippy.
It’s pretty obvious that’s a lower-body issue, but thankfully it sounds like everything is OK. While Q and the Blackhawks are not the most forthcoming about injuries, him saying a player is fine health-wise is usually just that.
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That’s good news, too, because Schmaltz looked mighty impressive in Thursday’s victory.
Schmaltz-Kane connection on point
Anyone who was worried Patrick Kane would struggle without Artemi Panarin (and I’m not sure that group was as big as some parties are making it out to be) had their fears put to rest Thursday. Kane and Schmaltz have a pretty wild connection themselves.
It started when Kane threw a spin-o-rama backhand feed across the goal mouth to Schmaltz, who scored by with a backhand swat past Antti Niemi from a tough angle. Everything about that play was high-level hockey. As easy as they made it look, both the mostly-blind pass through multiple legs and sticks and the backhand at an awkward angle were highly impressive.
The two weren’t done, though, as Kane dished a regular cross-ice pass right into Schmaltz’s wheelhouse for a one-timer that was very reminiscent of the Kane-Panarin connection.
Things won’t always be this easy for the Blackhawks on offense, but the fact the Ryan Hartman-Schmaltz-Kane line had as much success as it did — 12 points, with Hartman’s five leading — in the opening game is an extreme positive.
So hopefully Q is being truthful when he says Schmaltz is OK. It’d be really unfortunate for the Blackhawks’ forward lines to get derailed so quickly after such a solid first outing.