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Blackhawks Wed Oct 02 2013

Blackhawks Shut Down Washington

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png It was a grand old party at the United Center last night, as the Blackhawks raised its fifth banner, saluted those who made it possible, as well as the fans, and dropped the puck on the 2013-'14 season. After what seemed only like yesterday that Dave Bolland tossed his gloves like they were on fire, the champs laced 'em up for real and tried to prevent the Capitals from spoiling the love fest.

Winning at home after raising a championship banner hasn't been easy for the past few winners. The Blackhawks spoiled the party for the Los Angeles Kings last season, the Bruins fell to the Flyers for their home opener, and the Red Wings doused water on the party for the Blackhawks in 2010. With that said, and not to mention all the glitz and glamour that came with all the pre-game ceremonies and resized contracts for Corey Crawford and Bryan Bickell, how would this team respond to the pressures of satisfying the masses?

As it would turn out, Crawford's name was being mentioned a little too often and Bickell's not enough, as the Capitals bore holes into the Blackhawks defense in what ended up being a shootout at the O.K. Corral. When all was said and done, the Blackhawks (1-0-0) won the game by a final of 6-4, which sent everyone home happy, but not without a few questions.

First off there was the issue on the penalty kill for the Blackhawks. The Capitals had six chances with the one-man advantage (once with a two-man advantage -- more on that later) and capitalized on three of those opportunities. The first came from everyone's favorite Russian Alex Ovechkin, who took the shot off of Niklas Hjalmarsson's stick. This goal was a tough break for the Blackhawks, but one that should have been prevented with more aggressiveness in blocking the passing lanes down low.

The next two power-play goals for the Capitals came from Mikhail Grabovski, who ended up with a hat trick in the game and earning the game's second star. Both shots actually came off Mike Green shots that were tipped in by Grabovski, but both shots by Green were through lanes so wide open you could drive a Zamboni through to the net.

All that aside, there were some things accomplished by the Blackhawks last night that inspired confidence, where at one time provided the need to devour a roll of Rolaids. The faceoff battle went to the Blackhawks at 31-29 with Jonathan Toews and Marcus Kruger combining for 21 of those wins. That was a sight for sore eyes, as the Blackhawks had issues with that during the playoff run, especially within the defensive zone.

The power play lives! Sure, the Blackhawks only went one for four on the advantage (Brent Seabrook scored towards the end of the second period, which broke a 2-2 tie), but it was enough to keep the faith. It also should be noted that the movement on the power play for the Blackhawks was much improved from last year. At one point, Marian Hossa walked in the puck towards the net and made a cross-net pass for a shot attempt. It was blocked, but it was glorious to watch. If the Blackhawks keep working the power play like this, more shots are sure to fall.

Duncan Keith looked like he dipped his toe in the fountain of youth. It's not that Keith is an old timer by any means. He is, however, a 30-year-old defenseman, but looked every bit as aggressive, if not a little more, than last season. His finishing with a minus-one line is in no way indicative of how he actually played. That can be blamed for his teammate's lack of hustle on the power play while he was with them on the ice.

Brandon Saad, the game's number-one star, provided a glimpse into his potential for a full season of play after scoring a goal and notching two assists on the evening. Saad's speed also is something to behold. He was aggressive last night and played well on the Andrew Shaw line, which probably might be the quickest in the league.

The end of the game provided the most nervous tension when the Blackhawks were facing a five-on-three disadvantage on the penalty kill. Patrick Sharp's Interference call and rookie Joakim Nordstrom's Delay of Game set the table for Crawford and company to keep the score at 5-4. It was here that the team looked a little more freaked out at the notion of letting this one get away and blocked as many shots that were sent their way. Both penalties successfully were killed off and a sliding Hossa goal on an empty net sealed the deal. (Hossa was credited with the goal even though the puck didn't go in the net -- this after Green took him down on a breakaway.)

All in all, it was a fun night for the fans at the UC and for those who watched at home. Patrick Kane scored a goal in perfect Patrick Kane fashion. You know the result: Kane drags his toe a little, waits...waits...waits...fires a bullet past Braden Holtby, then spreads his wings, looking for approval from the frenzied crowd. Even Brandon Bollig got in on the fun last night and, for a brief period, led the league in scoring. Being able to make that joke in front of your friends at the game would have been worth the price of admission alone.

Up next for the Blackhawks is the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night on the west side. The Lightning finished 18-26-4, which earned them a fourth-place finish in the Southeast Division last season. The high-scoring duo of Martin St. Louis (last season's scoring champ with 60 points; 17 G, 43 A) and Steven Stamkos (57 points; 29 G, 28 A), will keep the defense on its toes. These two teams didn't play each other last season, due to the lockout, but last played back on November 4, 2011, in Tampa Bay. The Lightning won 5-4 in OT with Stamkos scoring twice. The Blackhawks can ill-afford to provide these two with wide scoring lanes, either on the kill or at full-strength.

Buckle up, Blackhawks fans. The ride has started and if last night's game is any indication on how this season is going to play out, it'll be one filled with a lot of scoring for both the good guys and their opponents. The banner is up and it's time to get back to work and defend the Cup.

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