There comes a time in every hockey season where fans think, “This is our year.” For many in the Chicago Blackhawks community, Thursday night was the time. In a game that seemed to happen in an alternate reality, the Blackhawks throttled the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, 10-1.
Yes, the Penguins were on the backend of a back-to-back to open the season after raising the 2017 Stanley Cup banner on Wednesday before going out and losing, in overtime, to the St. Louis Blues.
Yes, the Penguins started former Stanley Cup champion Antti Niemi’s ghost in net.
But excuses aside, when one professional team hangs 10 goals against another professional team, there’s no denying the magnitude of the game. All summer, the Blackhawks have heard that their window is closed, the Penguins are the modern dynasty, and that for the 2017-18 season, Chicago will be lucky to see playoff hockey. It seems that may have lit something underneath the players to make sure the league knows that they aren’t going anywhere.
Confirmed: Blackhawks will play remaining 81 games on schedule
So, now what? The parade isn’t scheduled for today. The banner isn’t going up tomorrow night. The Blackhawks still have 81 games left to play. 81 hard fought, grueling games known as the NHL’s meat-grinder of a regular season.
It can’t go without recognizing that the Blackhawks begin the season with eight games against playoff teams from last season, and nine games against playoff teams in the month of October. The 10-1 win over Pittsburgh was just the first test of many. The Blackhawks passed it with high marks, but it wasn’t a perfect game.
It is hard to nitpick after your team just pummeled the defending Cup champs and set franchise records in the process, but there are areas that can improve. Ten goals was an anomaly, and they all came at 5-on-5 even strength. The power play was 0-of-6 last night, though they had their chances. On the flip side, the penalty kill was 1-of-2, allowing the Penguins’ only tally on the night during a 5-on-3 shift.
The Blackhawks getting production from their top-nine forwards on even strength was a need rolling over from last season. Through one game, that need has been addressed. Now the special teams will need to follow suit and if it does, Chicago will have a chance to prove a lot of people wrong.
It’s hard to pay much attention to defensive struggles when your team is putting up goals only 30 seconds apart, but the Blackhawks blue line was far from flawless, too. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby had breakaway opportunities that Corey Crawford had to turn away. While the Blackhawks out-shot and out-chanced the Penguins, there were still 43 shot attempts given up at even strength. Crawford was great and has the ability to steal games for Chicago, but that shouldn’t be leaned on.
The win was great, bask in it. But know that today is a new day (yes it is), and that tomorrow is Game 2 of 82. The best thing that came from the 10-1 whipping of the Penguins is the notion that this Blackhawks squad has it in them to be dominant. The hope is that they can tap into that throughout the season, and not just when the red carpet is rolled out for them.