After watching the Chicago Blackhawks dismantle the Pittsburgh Penguins 10-1 in Thursday night’s season opener, I have some questions for you:
Which player will Jonathan Toews hand the Cup to first? Will Corey Crawford finally get the Conn Smythe trophy he’s always deserved? What do you think the championship apparel will look like? What day will the Hawks have the Cup rally? Will it be at Soldier Field again or back at Grant Park? Do you think my boss will let me out of work to go? Are they going to win two more Cups after this one to match the 1990s Bulls? Which Chicago park will be selected for the Brandon Saad statue?
[Deep inhale … exhale …Okay.]
That might be the most dominant performance you’ll see from an NHL team this season. Take the caveat that the Penguins were on the tail-end of back-to-back games and starting a backup goalie if you must. But how many of those 10 (TEN!) goals are you going to hang on the goaltending? One, two at the most? The circumstances facing the Penguins aren’t enough to account for the utter devastation they experienced at the hands of the Blackhawks.
There’s not much that needs to be summarized. In a span of 2:55 of the first period, the Blackhawks scored four goals against the Penguins and never looked back. Chicago added a fifth to take a 5-0 lead into the locker room at the first intermission. Pittsburgh finally got on the board early in the second period thanks to a Phil Kessel power play goal as the game appeared to be shifting into the Pens’ favor.
It didn’t last long.
Patrick Kane scored with an incredible backhander, Richard Panik extended the lead, and Nick Schmaltz made it 8-1 about 90 seconds later. Pittsburgh never had a chance in this one. Saad completed the hat trick in the third period and Brent Seabrook’s tally made it the first 10-goal performance for the Blackhawks since 1988.
Schmaltz exited the game in the third period with an apparent lower-body injury and did not return. He joined Tanner Kero in the locker room, he was also an early exit because of an injury. Joel Quenneville told reporters after the game that both players are “fine” and are expected to play Saturday night in Toronto.
CHI GOALS: Hartman (1), Saad 3 (3), Panik (1) Schmaltz 2 (2), Sharp (1), Kane (1), Seabrook 1
PIT GOALS: Kessel (1)
The Blackhawks warned us about this game
In hindsight, the Blackhawks spent the days leading up to this season opener hinting at the extra motivation this matchup brings. With the Penguins winning a third Cup to match the Blackhawks’ number in this era, Chicago’s players talked about it in a story by the Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus:
“You’re almost kind of like rooting for them to lose, so they don’t catch you, you know?” Kane said. “But now that they’re there, we’ve got a lot of respect for those guys, not only individually but as a team, what they’ve been able to accomplish. Back-to-back Stanley Cups. It’s been almost 20 years since the last team did that. Pretty impressive. Throughout the regular season, you’ve always got an eye on that team, or what other players on that team are doing. It’s kind of a good rivalry where you’re watching each other.”
No one could’ve predicted that the game would be this lopsided. But looking back, it’s not as surprising that the Hawks were this ready for this game.
Forward depth is likely a major strength of this team
The forward combinations started taking shape during the preseason and once positions became more concrete, the picture started looking prett-ay, prett-ay good. Brandon Saad is going to make Jonathan Toews better and Richard Panik fits in well as the final player on that top line. Patrick Kane is still one of the game’s most lethal offensive weapons and his pairing with Nick Schmaltz — more on him later — is going to light up scoreboards on several occasions this season. Whether Alex DeBrincat skates with that duo or on a third line with Patrick Sharp and Artem Anisimov, he’s going to provide an offensive spark as well. And Ryan Hartman is living up to his first-round pedigree — he had a quiet five points tonight, if a five-point performance can be quiet. You can count on one hand how many teams will have as deep of a top nine as the Blackhawks. Figuring out the fourth line will likely be a season-long project, but that’s a nice problem to have if it’s your only forward-related problem.
Nick Schmaltz is oozing confidence
As mentioned earlier, Schmaltz’s late injury casts a pall over what was otherwise a night of smiles for the Blackhawks and their fans. But don’t let that overshadow what we saw out of Schmaltz on Thursday night. He was everywhere, displaying an extra gear to his skating speed that I don’t recall seeing last year. His puck skills were part of the show, too. He made a slick pass to Panik for an easy goal in the first period, and scored on a one-timer while on his backhand: something that usually only works in video games. And when the puck was on his stick, Schmaltz’s eyes were always up, looking for the next teammate to set up for a goal. With Q confirming after the game that the injury isn’t serious, there are going to be a lot more nights like this for Schmaltz in the 2017-18 season.
- Brandon Saad (CHI) — 3 goals
- Patrick Kane (CHI) — 1 goal, 4 assists
- Nick Schmaltz (CHI) — 2 goals, 1 assist