Blackhawks

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 10-1 win over Penguins in season opener

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 10-1 win over Penguins in season opener

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 10-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Thursday's season opener:

1. Brandon Saad makes it rain

How's that for a return? Saad announced to Chicago that he's back by netting a hat trick for the second time in the last couple weeks, but this one actually counted.

He scored a pair of first-period goals at even strength, then found the back of the net in the third period to cap it off thanks to a terrific pass by Jonathan Toews, the United Center crowd of 21,705 showering the ice with hats. 

"The puck was finding me tonight," said Saad, who finished with a team-high five shots on goal. "I'll take it."

2. Patrick Kane in MVP form

Who needs Artemi Panarin? Seriously though, Kane put on an absolute clinic in his season debut, tying a career high with a four-point game (one goal and three assists).

His first two assists — a no-look pass and a spin-o-rama — will be on his highlight reel, and so will his goal, where he roofed a ridiculous backhander past Matt Murray, who made a relief appearance after former Blackhawks netminder Antti Niemi allowed four goals on 13 shots in the opening period.

"It's almost like it wasn't a real game," Kane said of the 10-1 rout. "It was amazing."

3. Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz shine ... and Blackhawks dodge a bullet

Schmaltz backed up all the preseason hype that surrounded him by scoring two goals and adding an assist in the win. He backchecked hard, he led the rush and buried his scoring chances. Kane went as far to say after the game that Schmaltz's speed through the middle of the ice reminds him of Connor McDavid.

Staying on the same line, Hartman had himself a career night as well, recording five points (one goal and four assists) in the victory.

That trio of Hartman, Schmaltz and Kane was simply dynamic.

"It was amazing watching the speed, whether it was Schmaltzy going through the middle of the ice, playmaking, patience in the offensive zone, be it off the rush, cross-ice passes, they were doing it all tonight," head coach Joel Quenneville said. "One of those nights where they were outstanding. All complemented one another, all hit open spaces and they all hit those little holes and were extremely dangerous. It was a great start for them."

There was a bit of scare at the end of the third period when Schmaltz left the Blackhawks' bench favoring his leg. Quenneville said after the game that Schmaltz is fine and that he will "likely" play Saturday, along with Tanner Kero, who suffered an injury in the win.

4. Patrick Sharp gets in on the action, too

Oh yeah, it was a nice welcome home for the Sharp Shooter as well. He scored the team's fifth goal to cap off the monstrous first period, which happened to be his 600th career NHL point.

He finished the game with seven shot attempts and logged 19:34 of ice time, which led all Blackhawks forwards.

5. Artem Anisimov's success at the dot

Getting away from all the scoring and looking deeper into the box score, something that flew under the radar was Anisimov's success at the faceoff circle. That was a huge concern for him last season, when he won only 45.1 percent of his draws. 

Consistency is his biggest issue, but he won 15 of 21 faceoffs (71.5 percent) in a third-line role to open the season. Great start.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.