It’s good to be excited about the Chicago Blackhawks this early in the 2017-18 season, and why not enjoy that feeling with a little music?
Upon leaving the United Center on Thursday night, I felt like I needed to loosen my belt. I felt the same satisfaction you feel after a big Thanksgiving dinner. Ten goals for the Chicago Blackhawks. No, TEN GOALS! What was there to not like about a night like that?
What I like about you, you hold me tight
The night started with a moving tribute to former Blackhawk Bryan Bickell. A great montage on the video boards led to the sight of Bickell standing in the zamboni entrance door as a silhouette before a glow of red.
When he skated onto the ice in full uniform, and the spotlight shone on him, the familiar United Center roar filled the building. It was a truly touching moment as he joined the entire team at the blue line for the singing of the national anthem.
Emotions run deep with this team and its fans, and the roar of the crowd matched the moment at hand. Hats off to the Chicago Blackhawks organization for a special tribute. Hats off to Bickell for his fine contributions to this team and his courageous battle with multiple sclerosis.
What I like about you, you really know how to dance
Whether it was the emotional roller coaster of this reunion, or the desire to show the reigning Stanley Cup champions what true champions are, this Blackhawks team came out with fire from the first puck drop.
Much has already been written here on Blackhawk Up on the offensive onslaught the Blackhawks inflicted on the Pittsburgh Penguins. What I’ll add is that this year’s team can dance.
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The top line of Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik was relentless in driving to the net. Its power and speed were almost frightening as the players found themselves tilting the ice toward the offensive zone.
I’ve knocked Panik for being limited in his vision on the ice, but he dispelled my doubts about him. He executed a perfect shoot-to-the-far-goalie-pad move so Saad could jam home the rebound. He was finding his linemates in the offensive zone to drive possession. He was throwing his weight around to create separation. It’s just the first game under their belt, but this line looks awesome.
The second line of Ryan Hartman-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane was dangerous with the puck on almost every shift. It came as a surprise to me that Hartman was inserted on the left wing, as Alex DeBrincat had spent much of the preseason there. Hartman brought an element of reckless abandon that meshed well with the silky smooth puckhandling of Schmaltz and Kane.
When you go up, down, jump around, think about true romance (yeah)
Schmaltz and Kane worked out together over the summer, and the chemistry they have developed was clearly visible. Schmaltz has elevated his skating as he seems to knife his way through the neutral zone and then cycle effortlessly with Kane in the offensive zone.
Their offensive output in this first game was eye-popping. It’s comforting to know that while Kane lost his hockey twin Artemi Panarin, he has a budding bromance with Schmaltz.
Keep on whispering in my ear, tell me all the things that I wanna hear
The third line of Patrick Sharp-Artem Anisimov-DeBrincat had some moments, but will probably need some time to develop more chemistry. Although he doesn’t wear the “A,” Sharp is a leader and a good mentor for the young DeBrincat. Look for good things to happen with this trio.
The fourth line of Lance Bouma-Tanner Kero-John Hayden only showed up on the score sheet in the form of a Hayden assist, and he was very visible beyond that as well.
He managed to annoy just about every Penguin with a hard-nosed, abrasive style that will endear him to coach Joel Quenneville. The Bouma effect may have kept usual suspect Ryan Reaves in check. Kero suffered an injury and will most likely be replaced by Tommy Wingels in tonight’s game against Columbus. We will see where this goes.
Da Windy City
Never wanna let you go, know you make me feel all right (yeah)
On defense, the long-awaited reunion of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook finally happened. In my opinion, this is a key development.
Keith is Keith, still making skilled plays at both ends of the ice. One play was so subtle but made me say “Wow” out loud. On an attempted zone entry, he batted a swift puck down at waist height and just turned the play the other way.
And I sensed a comfort factor within Seabrook, as he effectively pushed the Penguins’ wingers to the perimeter to break up their zone entries. No longer having to worry about covering for an inexperienced partner, he appeared to be much more confident and like the Seabrook of old.
Michal Kempny and Connor Murphy are an intimidating duo. Their size and physicality were noticeable as they took care of business around the net. The vaunted attack of the Pens forwards just never got on track with these two on the ice. Murphy delivered quite a hit on Evgeni Malkin that got everyone’s attention. I thought we were going to see Kempny with Seabrook, but I like this pair and want to see more.
Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta were surprisingly good. Forsling didn’t commit any glaring mistakes, which eased my anxiety with him. Rutta showed he can play the North American style of hockey once again with solid play at both ends.
On one play, Rutta roughed up Malkin in the slot, and the two stood and stared each other down as the play left the zone. Malkin was thoroughly frustrated with Rutta’s physical play. The pair od defensemen also showed good judgment on pinching in the offensive zone.
While everyone has been marveling at the insane goal production from Game 1, the sound play of the defensemen in the defensive zone and their activation in the offensive zone was a big part of that. Responsible decisions by them and the forwards covering for them is what Blackhawks hockey has been about. The offensive whirlwind reminded me of the onslaught the ‘Hawks inflicted upon the Flyers in the 2010 Final series’ fifth game.
Tell me all the things that I wanna hear, ’cause it’s true, that’s what I like about you
Yes, it’s just game one in the books of a long season. But what we saw Thursday night should at least give us confidence that the 2017-18 Blackhawks are working to correct the errors from the past two seasons. Size, speed, skill and better systems are the things we wanna hear. The amazing combination of skill and speed has been their trademark and we saw a revitalization of just that.
Thanks to The Romantics for the inspiration here. I never thought this song would become significant in any way other than a timepiece, but here it is! We’re all romantics at heart, longing for a return to the good old days. Maybe we’ll get what we want.