With the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues tied at one goal apiece during Wednesday night’s season opener, the Blackhawks’ third line of Ryan Hartman, Tyler Motte and Marcus Kruger generated a quick rush, turning it into a strong forecheck and eventually a goal. Hartman, Chicago’s first round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, put the puck home for his first career NHL goal.
Ironically, the stick that finished the play was laying on the ice at the beginning of it, as Hartman lost it after getting tied up with a Blue in the neutral zone. Let’s break down the play from start to finish.
The above video cuts out the true start of the play, until they show it on replay. It all starts when Hartman applies pressure to Blues center Kyle Brodziak in the neutral zone. Hartman actually overcommits to one side, resulting in his stick getting tied up in Brodziak’s legs.
Brodziak ends up getting tripped on the play, which Hartman is ultimately lucky to not have been penalized for. Tyler Motte was quick to jump on the loose puck and take it the other way. However, Brodziak was tripped up by Hartman’s stick so dramatically, he ends up kicking it all the way through the neutral zone. Motte, with his head up evaluating the defenders, doesn’t see the stick and ends up being tripped by it, seen below.
As Motte gets tripped up, he loses the puck to Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo continues back in the zone to give himself some time as Kruger quickly jumps into the play to forecheck. Kruger’s forecheck is effective enough to force Bortuzzo to adjust his sight lines and ultimately make a dangerous cross ice pass.
Here Bortuzzo is clearly looking directly up the ice, looking at his teammates near the blue line. But Kruger’s forecheck — along with unfavorable positioning from the two St. Louis forwards — forces him to change his mind and send the puck across the zone.
As you can see in the picture above, Bortuzzo’s decision to send the puck across the ice was extremely dangerous, mostly because he doesn’t have a teammate over there. The only player there is Hartman, who has just recovered his stick. Hartman quickly realizes the puck is headed right for him, and some quick reactions allow him to keep the puck in the zone with nothing but open ice in front of him.
As Hartman starts approaching the net, Bortuzzo quickly recovers and heads back across the ice to block the shot and is actually successful in doing so. Hartman’s shot deflects off Bortuzzo’s skate and goes wide of the net. This is where Kruger makes another great play, quickly getting his stick on the puck and preventing Kevin Shattenkirk from clearing the puck from around the net.
The puck then stays in place for Motte to collect it. It appears as though Motte is attempting a quick backhand shot, but he ends up just weakly pushing the puck toward Hartman who is all alone in the slot. Hartman quickly shuffles it toward the net, and beats Allen between the legs for his first career goal, giving the Hawks a 2-1 lead.
In the end, this would be the Blackhawks’ final goal of the night, and the Blues would proceed to add three more and eventually win the game by a score of 5-2. Still, this was an impressive play all around from the Blackhawks’ third line, and seeing it end up in the back of the net is extremely encouraging.
To lose in the fashion they did is obviously discouraging, but to see a brand new line — with two NHL rookies on it, nonetheless — produce a strong play and goal like this is a strong step in the right direction for the Blackhawks as they seek to develop their young talent and remain a playoff contender this year. Last season, Kruger had one assist in his first 36 games, and it took him just one to get there in 2016-17.
If this trio can continue to play strong two-way hockey, Joel Quenneville may have a dependable option here.