By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks fell prey to an outstanding performance in goal by Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen in the season debut for both teams. The Blackhawks found themselves on the short end of a 2-1 score at the American Airlines Center Friday night.
Lehtonen stopped 37 of Chicago’s 38 shots, overshadowing an impressive night for ‘Hawks goalie Corey Crawford. The visiting Blackhawks had plenty of chances, but a couple of defensive zone misplays would be all it would take to spoil Chicago’s opener.
Neither team would score in the opening period, though it wasn’t for lack of opportunities. Both Crawford and Lehtonen came out in fine form and turned away several big shots. Jamie Benn looked to have a breakaway opportunity early after Duncan Keith couldn’t settle the puck, but Nick Leddy hustled down the ice and prevented Benn from getting of much of a shot.
The ‘Hawks got one great look on a Marc Fistric slashing penalty at the 4:54 mark, but Jonathan Toews was stopped by Lehtonen. Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa each made great individual efforts to get the puck to the doorstep but weren’t able to finish. The Stars Michael Ryder clanged one off the left post in the waning minutes, but Crawford stopped all 13 Dallas shot attempts in the first twenty minutes.
Less than a minute into the middle frame, Keith sent a clearing attempt up the boards from behind the net. Mike Ribeiro collected the loose puck and set up Alex Goligoski as Dallas drew first blood.
The ‘Hawks would fire 22 shots on goal in the second period, but Lehtonen was up to the task each time. Michael Frolik had an open net to shoot at with 12:45 to go in the period, but couldn’t get a tumbling puck under the crossbar. Chicago would fail to convert three power play opportunities in the period, the last being erased early when Hossa was sent off for slashing at the 15:56 mark.
Dallas won the resulting draw in the Chicago zone and Sheldon Souray sent a shot on net. Crawford couldn’t keep the shot in his glove and Benn flipped a back hand in to give the Stars a 2-0 advantage.
The Blackhawks controlled the action throughout the bulk of the third period, but Lehtonen denied rushes by Jamal Mayers and Patrick Sharp, plus a Kane deflection of a Toews shot. With 2:36 remaining in the game, coach Joel Quenneville pulled Crawford in favor of an extra skater. Leddy got Chicago’s first goal at the 19:56 mark. Toews won the faceoff, but a shot couldn’t be mustered as the clock ran out.
– Crawford stopped 31 of 33 shots, but it wasn’t enough to offset Lehtonen’s big night.
– Leddy had a pretty strong evening even before finding the net in the final seconds. He played with a lot of confidence and saved Keith’s bacon on at least one occasion.
– The ‘Hawks doughnut-holed four power plays on the night.
– There seemed to be a lot of bouncing pucks throughout the game, which affected both teams.
– Benn came up with the hit of the night when he planted Niklas Hjalmarsson into the boards early in the third period and took out a section of the glass with what was a clean check.
– In a move that surprised no one, Quenneville was an alchemist with the lines. Toews, Kane and Sharp were together by the third period, but not before Bryan Bickell replaced rookie Brandon Saad on the top group. Saad played 13 minutes, but aside from some nice defensive plays was pretty quiet.
– Steve Montador was used at forward in the final period, skating with Saad and Mayers. It seemed odd that Chicago wouldn’t have called up another Rockford forward to play Friday, but it wasn’t a game-changing decision. The ‘Hawks simply got beat by a great night in goal by Lehtonen.
– The Blackhawks are now 3-5-1 against the Stars over the last three seasons. Hopefully fortunes are different for Saturday’s home opener.
– I don’t know who the Stars’ organist is, but anyone who offers up Personal Jesus and Kasmir in the same period has to get some props.
– Does Pat Foley really believe that it will take 100 points to make the top eight in the Western Conference? I know it’s a tough conference, but that might be reaching just a little.
– No a terrible opening for the Blackhawks, just a frustrating one in that the chances were there and then denied. No reason to panic with just one game in the books.