By Brad Gardner
Three months late, the Chicago Blackhawks finally kicked off the new season on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. The Blackhawks were sharp with the puck and got off to a quick start, eventually coming away a 5-2 victory.
Although badly out-hit in the game by the Kings (39-22), the Blackhawks managed to get off to the quick start and hold the lead. The PK unit turned in a perfect effort, killing off five penalties in the game (although the final Kings advantage lasted only the final 36 seconds of the game).
Less than two minutes into the game, Patrick Sharp drew the first penalty. Then 40 seconds into that man advantage, Trevor Lewis cross-checked Jonathan Toews into the corner boards to put the Blackhawks on a 5-on-3 power play. The first unit maintained the offensive zone throughout the two-man advantage, in part because of a hustle play by Marian Hossa to keep the puck in the zone, and Patrick Kane eventually cashed on a one-time blast from a sharp angle. Hossa, who lined up on the point for this power play, got the primary assist for putting the puck in Kane’s wheelhouse.
Later in the first, Hossa and Michael Frolik each extended the lead with goals less than two minutes part. Hossa scored when his centering pass deflected in off Kings’ defenseman Drew Doughty, who was defending Toews as he drove the slot. The puck ricocheted off the toe of Doughty’s skate and beat Quick wide.
Frolik’s goal came 74 seconds later during a delayed penalty. Marcus Kruger made a quick move around the defenseman at the blue line to gain the zone and dished to an open Frolik, who ripped a wrist shot past Quick, off the inside of the post, and into the net. The goal put the Blackhawks up 3-0, a lead they would take into the first intermission.
The Kings came out and had a good shift to start the second, but it was the ‘Hawks that scored the first goal of the middle frame. Kings defenseman Slava Voynov failed to keep the puck in the zone, giving Kane a breakaway from center ice. Kane tried to tuck his backhand shot through Quick’s five hole, but the goalie was able to get his pad on it. As Quick spun around to defend the left post, Toews picked up the loose puck and patiently waited for the right side of the net to open up for an easy goal.
Los Angeles finally got on the board with 83 seconds left in the second period. Rob Scuderi scored it from the blue line, matching his goal total through 82 games last season in the process. Kyle Clifford was tied up with Sheldon Brookbank in front of Corey Crawford and as the goalie tried to peak around players, Scuderi sent a shot inside the far post that went in uncontested. Crawford barely reacted to the shot due to the big bodies tied up in front of his crease.
The Kings again came out of the locker room with confidence in the third, but it took almost nine minutes before they were able to beat Crawford for the second time. Brookbank collided with Crawford in the crease and put his stick between the goalie’s legs. Crawford went down to the ice, stacking his pads to make one save on Kyle Clifford. The rebound went to Greene, who fed an open Jordan Nolan in front of the net for a relatively easy deflection over Crawford as he stayed down on the ice.
Whatever momentum the Kings might have found from the goal was quickly extinguished by Hossa’s second goal of the game. It was another fortunate bounce for Hossa, who gained the zone and sent a wrister towards the net from the top of the right faceoff circle. The puck deflected off of Los Angeles’ defenseman Alec Martinez and past Quick to the short side, making it a 5-2 game. Neither team scored again the rest of the way, the Blackhawks sealing a victory against a short 6-on-4 advantage for the Kings to end the game.
– The Kings celebrated their Stanley Cup win prior to the game by passing the cup around the edge of the ice and raising the organization’s first championship banner. If watching the banner go up in another team’s building isn’t a strong motivator, I don’t know what is.
– While the big guns showed up offensively, it was also a strong start from Marcus Kruger. He assisted on Frolik’s goal and made a lot of little plays throughout the game, such as backchecking to deflect a pass on a shorthanded rush from the Kings. He also showed a little more jump in his step than he did last year in Chicago (and for many of his games in Rockford this season, for that matter).
– Corey Crawford did not have an especially spectacular game, but made some big saves to keep the Kings from getting too close. The 14 blocked shots in front of him certainly helped and the Blackhawks as a team did a fairly good job of keeping the Los Angeles chances from far out.
– Jonathan Toews played in the game despite missing Friday’s practice with the flu, logging his usual workload and leading forwards in ice time with 18:47.
– Daniel Carcillo left the game in the third period with an apparent lower-body injury. Carcillo was playing in his first game action since injuring his knee on an illegal hit on Edmonton’s Tom Gilbert.
– The three stars of the game: 3rd star – Kyle Clifford… 2nd star – Brent Seabrook… 1st star – Marian Hossa.
– The Blackhawks will travel to Arizona after the game for a match-up against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Hawks will look to avenge their playoff loss last season at the hands of the Coyotes, who open their season on the road Saturday night in Dallas.