The Blackhawks lost their first game of the new season. We all expected that to happen. This is a rebuilding Blackhawks team that lacks the firepower to dance with a team as deep and skilled as the defending champs. So, going in, expectations were incredibly low.
Indeed, expectations are low for this entire season. But Patrick and I have been trying to prepare you for that reality for months, and giving you some bite size nuggets of hope along the way.
There are things we should be watching for with the Blackhawks this season; Patrick outlined a few before last night’s game. And last night there were a few things we saw in the box score that were more positive than their four power play goals against.
First, what was abundantly clear when they signed one-year deals on a team that is openly rebuilding was that Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou are potential rentals based on their potential to increase trade value and get moved before the deadline in early March. Last night we saw good things from both of them.
Domi skated 16:14 (3:01 of which was on the power play) and scored a goal off a beautiful pass from Tyler Johnson — much like ones he struggled to finish while skating during the preseason with Patrick Kane. One of the areas where the Blackhawks struggled during the preseason was getting the AA-Domi-Kane line to click, and Domi was open about how much harder he has to work on a line with Kane because his hockey IQ is so ridiculously high. So Domi getting to the spot and finishing a crazy pass in a tight window was a great step forward.
Domi also won 11 of 19 faceoffs last night and was credited with one blocked shot and one takeaway. The more he fills the box score and wins faceoffs, the better.
For his part, Athanasiou at least looked fast. I still have questions about his ability to finish, but he picked up an assist on Jonathan Toews‘ power play goal in the first period. He put two shots on net and, like Domi, was credited with one blocked shot and one takeaway. He also skated on both special teams, though the performance of the penalty kill likely won’t help him much.
Toews looked like the guy from the second half of last season. Or, even better. If he can continue playing at this level, he’ll be a dangerous player. And his leadership is still incredibly valuable on a young team in transition.
But I like that Luke Richardson didn’t rely on him too heavily on penalty killing duty (Toews only skated 55 seconds short-handed) or at the dot; Toews won 10 of 14 faceoffs but didn’t have the overwhelming majority of the draws on the team like he did far too often last year.
Finally, three young guys looked solid last night. MacKenzie Entwistle, Filip Roos and Alec Regula were all thrown into a cauldron last night against a team that is significantly better than the Blackhawks, but they held their own.
Entwistle and Regula had appeared in the NHL before and had an idea of what they were getting themselves into, but last night was probably one of the most electric environments either has played in at this level. They both had their share of mistakes, but they also looked comfortable more often than not — which is important. Regula got better as the game progressed and Entwistle did a nice job on penalty kill and earned praise from Edzo on the national television broadcast; Olczyk said Entwistle was one of Chicago’s better forwards last night.
Roos was making his NHL debut against one of the faster teams in the league — which means the world. With all due respect, he didn’t face guys like this in Europe last year. But he did a nice job paired with Regula of playing through contact, making good decisions with the puck (most of the time) and keeping the puck away from the net.
As the dust settled last night, it was encouraging that the Blackhawks allowed only one even-strength goal in a blowout loss. And they competed their tails off. They weren’t good enough to beat an elite team, but they tried and that’s really all we can ask for this season.