I think I can speak for everyone when I say that was a pretty crappy home opener. The Hawks will allow me to use the word sloppy to describe them for the third straight game, as it seems like that is yet again the best way to describe what I and 21,000 other fans watched at the United Center last night. The big crowd watched the Hawks struggle their way to earning a point before falling 3-2 in a shootout to the Nashville Predators.
I would say this was a better effort than we had seen the past two games in New York and Washington. The Hawks came out flying for the first 10 minutes or so and seemed determined to bury Nashville early. Unfortunately, despite a ton of great scoring chances early in the game, Dan Ellis made some big stops for the Predators. It seemed like there were five or six great point-blank opportunities for the Hawks that they just could not put away. Eventually, about six minutes in, they scored on a five on three advantage when Martin Havlat tipped home a pass from Patrick Kane to get the 1-0 lead, but really the 1st was a story of the Hawks needing more than what they put on the scoreboard, because Nashville tied it 3 minutes later with a goal from Shea Weber on the power play, and Kevin Klein would score on a breakaway when Kane made a very ill-advised pass that sprung Klein right out of the penalty box.
What followed after the 1st was the recurring theme and perhaps disturbing trend that is taking place for the Hawks so far; a great start followed by the forecheck softening up and the defense starting with the turnovers and miscues. After Patrick Sharp scored just 30 seconds into the 2nd on a broken play to tie up the game, the next 40 minutes of hockey were sloppy (yes, I worked it in again), unorganized, tentative and frustrating. Defensively, guys like Brent Seabrook and Brent Sopel stood out as players who really had a brutal night. Seabrook was mishandling the puck all night and Sopel just looked slow and a step behind.
I still am having trouble understanding why Denis Savard seems intent on reeling in his forecheckers after a good, fast start. For three games now, they have come out flying and getting scoring chances, and then all of a sudden we see less pressure put on the opposing team's defensemen and the forwards sitting back in the shell. You could see the difference between these two teams last night; The Hawks sat back, while the Predators were agressively forechecking all night and causing problems for the Blackhawks' blue-liners all night. This team has some talented, fast forwards who need to be used in the correct way, and if they are not it is simply bad coaching, which is what we are experiencing right now under Savard.
As for the goaltending, Cristobal Huet is definitely unimpressive so far in his first couple of starts. Last night, I think the first goal he allowed was very stoppable. Then, in the shootout, it was clear he was just very over-matched by Rich Peverly and J.P. Dumont who just went five-hole on him for both tallies. I think Huet seems to be lacking confidence right now and is not making the big stops he needs to make. It's early, but he needs to pick up his game. I wouldn't be surprised to see Nikolai Khabibulin starting Wednesday against Phoenix.
Certainly, an 0-2-1 start is not what any of us envisioned, and it's tough to kind of stumble out of the gate like that, but let's keep in mind that it has only been 3 games, and some guys just aren't playing at their top levels yet. Maybe there has been a lot of jitters with these games and now that they have gotten the first three out of the way, they can just focus on winning games, period.