Sometimes you just need to write a blog post at midnight even though you’ve been staring at screens for hours and you’re a couple beers in. Sometimes your team wins 10-1 over the defending champs in the season opener and you just CANNOT CONTAIN YOURSELF.
The Blackhawks’ beatdown of the Penguins on Thursday night was a lot of things, but more than anything, it was the overwhelmingly positive indicator this fan base needed. We spent the whole summer hearing about how the team’s championship window was closing, the defense would be a mess, and they could even miss the playoffs.
Now? The hype train is back on, and for good reason. The Blackhawks didn’t just win by nine goals. They ran roughshod over a team coming off back-to-back Stanley Cups.
You could tell what kind of game this was going to be just 10 minutes in. Chicago exploded for four goals in just a matter of minutes in the first period, which made it clear the newlook team would be gunning for offense whenever it could. There was so, so much to like about what we saw. Let’s just run through a few things now because why not.
- Brandon Saad. SAAD. KNEEL BEFORE HIM. We already knew this guy was damn good at hockey. But he wasn’t this good when he left for Columbus, right? The 24-year-old came out Thursday looking like a full-blown superstar as he flew around the ice and finished key chances anytime he got the puck near the promised land. Thirty goals? Heck, it feels like 35 goals isn’t out of the question at this pace.
- Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman were absolutely amazing. The former first-round picks looked great at times last year, but this was like taking their best moments from a 10-game span in 2016-17 and boiling it down to 60 minutes. They were skating circles around the Penguins’ defense and finished with a combined eight points. Hartman had 12 even strength assists last season. On Thursday, he had four of them. These guys are the real deal.
- The defense didn’t really get tested as the Penguins laid down once the game out of hand, but Connor Murphy, Michal Kempny, and company all looked the part. You can see the formula here: the Hawks are maxing out on mobility and trying to prioritize aggressively pushing the puck forward to take advantage of their immense talent up front. Kempny in particularly made some really nice plays jumping into the offensive fray that might’ve been considered mistakes in the system a year ago. The Hawks are giving their defensemen a little more room to play offensively, and it’s exciting to see.
- Corey Crawford is awesome. I do not regret picking him to win the Vezina, even if it’s a tall order expecting voters to get on that bandwagon. The only goal he gave up Thursday was an unstoppable shot on a 5-on-3 Pittsburgh power play. It happens.
- Lance Bouma is extremely whatever on the fourth line, but John Hayden is fantastic. You don’t want to sell off a guy after one game but Bouma’s track record the past few years is lousy. He should get pushed for playing time by Tommy Wingels, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tomas Jurco, and Laurent Dauphin over the next few months.
- DeBrincat didn’t get a point but he looked like an NHL guy. He was confident on the puck, made some great passes, and even laid out a Pittsburgh defender who had 50-plus pounds on him. He’s out there trying to make things happen just like he did in the OHL, which is what you want to see.
There’s a whole lot else to think about from this game, but the main takeaway is just how amazing it was. This might’ve been the most fun Blackhawks game since at least Game 6 of the first round against the Blues in 2016. This wasn’t just a lopsided win, it was a complete and utter decimation of a team that’s supposed to be really damn good. Sure, they were on a back-to-back and started their backup goalie. Ten goals is still 10 goals.
I’m incredibly excited after one game. We still don’t know exactly how good these Blackhawks are, but the signs are positive. At the very least, it looks like a thrilling team that will rack up a lot of goals and play a more interesting style than we saw a year ago. Even if they’re not better, they’ll be more fun, and that’s a good thing in itself.
The Blackhawks were one of the big mysteries for the NHL entering this season. Right now, you have to feel pretty damn good about what we’ve seen.