By Jon Fromi
The banner-raising at the United Center gave way to a barn-burner Tuesday night as the Chicago Blackhawks opened the 2013-14 season. A wide open offensive affair with the Washington Capitals was ultimately decided by a gallant shorthanded stand by the Blackhawks. Chicago won an action-packed contest by a score of 6-4.
Brandon Saad was tabbed the game’s first star after posting a goal and a pair of assists. Washington’s power play nearly pulled out the game for the Capitals but on this night the penalty kill came up big when it had to in the late going.
First Period-The Hawks got an early power play when Eric Fehr caught Jimmy Hayes with a high stick 2:01 into the game. Late in the man advantage, Joel Quenneville sent out his fourth line. Even more surprising was watching Brandon Bollig flip in a rebound of a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot right after the power play expired. At the 4:06 mark, Chicago led 1-0.
The Capitals evened it up soon after Bollig was sent to the box for roughing in the eleventh minute. Alex Ovechkin took possession of the puck when Mikhail Grabovski’s pass came off Hjalmarsson’s stick. The league’s most dangerous power play threat tied the game at a goal apiece at 10:42 of the period.
The Hawks wasted little time regaining the lead, with a more familiar tandem accounting for the goal. Jonathan Toews found Patrick Kane at the left circle. Kane threaded a wrist shot high on Braden Holtby’s stick side to make it 2-1 11:06 into the game.
Ovechkin was called for slashing in the fourteenth minute, but interference by Kane negated the power play just over a minute later. Fehr got off a nice shot in the final seconds, but Corey Crawford made his tenth save of the period to send Chicago up 2-1 after twenty minutes.
Second Period-Patrick Sharp swiped the puck from Niklas Backstrom along Washington’s blue line and headed straight for Holtby on the breakaway. Holtby came up big on the attempt and denied Sharp from point-blank range in the second minute.
Washington put together a strong shift in the sixth minute but couldn’t beat Crawford despite holding the puck for extended time in the Hawks zone. Jimmy Hayes found Duncan Keith for a big slap shot on the right side that was smothered by Holtby.
Michal Handzus was taken to the locker room after being sent awkwardly to the boards. He would return, however.
Joakim Nordstrom had a decent shot on goal near the midway point of the period, followed by Toews getting a good look coming across the crease. Thanks to an active stick by Joel Ward, the Capitals went on a 2-on-1 after the captain was stopped, tying the contest when Grabovski went to the upper right corner at 10:30.
At the 13:03 mark, Bollig drove to the net and drew a hooking penalty from Connor Carrick. It took a while for Chicago to get a good entry into the Capitals zone, but Marian Hossa brought the puck across the blue line and was able to approach the crease. The shot was knocked away, but Brent Seabrook was there to slap the rebound past Holtby 14:42 into the period to make it 3-2 Chicago.
Seconds later, Kane took control of a loose puck and bore down on Holtby. Attempting to toe-drag, he lost the handle and the Washington goalie made the pad save. Hossa got a nice feed from Sharp moments later, but had to settle the puck and the attempt was stopped.
In the nineteenth minute, Mike Green was whistled for delay of game to give the Hawks their fourth power play opportunity. Chicago generated some real pressure on Holtby but the period ended without another tally. Andrew Shaw committed a tripping penalty at the buzzer and the Hawks entered the second intermission up 3-2.
Third Period-Handzus was on the bench to open the period and watched the Capitals even the game. That happened when Washington won a faceoff and Grabovski got the puck past Crawford’s stick side just 59 seconds into the final frame. Crawford looked to be shaken up a moment before on a shot attempt.
Michal Rozsival hooked Ward in the fifth minute to give Washington another shot at some 5-on-4 time. After some patient passing from the Capitals, Green sent a slap shot that caromed off of Grabovski’s stick and past Crawford. With 5:16 gone, Chicago trailed 4-3.
The Hawks scored the equalizer in the eighth minute. Handzus and Saad worked a cross and drop play, with Saad getting to the net and backhanding Handzus’ assist into the net. This made the score 4-4 7:55 into the period.
Toews took a big hit in the corner courtesy of John Erskine that looked a little scary but the captain played on. Chicago kept the pressure on Holtby and took the lead when Johnny Oduya sent a rolling puck off of Ward’s stick. The shot was gloved by Holtby but slipped out and completed the trip to the promised land. With just over six minutes to play, the Hawks went up 5-4.
Sharp won the Hawks possession with a nice fore check in the sixteenth minute. On the ensuing play, he made contact with Holtby and Washington went on the power play once again. Nordstrom committed a delay of game infraction with 3:33 to go and Capitals coach Adam Oates used his timeout to set up the 5-on-3 for the next 86 seconds.
Crawford and the abbreviated PK unit made a tremendous stand, absorbing a furious attack and holding firm. The Hawks got a fourth skater back and killed the remainder of Nordstrom’s penalty. Holtby went to the bench with 1:22 to go. Troy Brouwer threw a pass in front of the net that Crawford covered with just over a minute to play.
Hossa won a battle for a loose puck in the Capitals zone and was brought down from behind. He was awarded a goal by the officials with 44 seconds left and Chicago skated away with an entertaining victory.
-I liked how the Hawks tried to sneak Gary Bettman onto the ice as they were introducing the team staff. The fans still booed, so the ruse failed.
-Green definitely closed his hand on the puck on Washington’s final power play to keep the puck in Chicago’s zone. Fortunately the blown call didn’t play a factor in the outcome.
-It goes without saying that the Hawks picked the wrong team to commit a half-dozen penalties against. I wonder what it’s like to have your team go on the power play and know they are probably going to score.
-Crawford, who made 28 saves on 32 shots, looked like he was feeling the effects of something in the third period. Whether he was dehydrated or took a shot off his mask, he seemed to labor in the latter part of the game. When the smoke cleared, however, Crow came up big and preserved the win.
-Grabovski (a hat trick to go with an assist) was the game’s second star. He would have looked good in an Indian head sweater, but that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
-Oduya, the game’s third star, and Hjalmarsson were both plus-four on the evening. The elder Swede had the game-winning goal while the younger Swede chipped in with a pair of assists.
-It won’t happen often, but give Bollig his due tonight. He played a pretty solid game in his 8:04 of ice time and factored into two Chicago goals. Just remember that he led the Hawks in scoring for seven minutes.
-As a team, the Hawks went 31-29 at the dot. Handzus led the way, winning six of nine draws. Kruger won 10 of his 17 face offs.
-This isn’t related to the game, but losing Ryan Stanton to a waiver claim by Vancouver stings a little. I thought Stanton could provide some reliable minutes in case of injuries this season. The IceHogs’ depth on the blue line also takes a hit for those of us who care. Stanton is a good kid who has worked hard since catching on as an undrafted free agent in 2010. I wish him luck despite his new association with the Canucks.
-Next up is another Eastern Conference tilt as Chicago hosts the Lightning Saturday night. Good to be back recapping some hockey games this fall!
Shaw and Kruger centered the second line while Handzus was out in the second period.