Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane were a sizzling combination through most of Thursday night’s game. From their reads off each other to the passes to the points, the duo, which had built up great chemistry through training camp, put it to full use through two-plus periods. Throw in Ryan Hartman for more of a net-front presence and there was the potential for some points.
Make that a lot of points.
Schmaltz had two goals and an assist, Kane had a goal and three assists and Hartman had a career-high five points (goal, four assists) in the Blackhawks’ lopsided 10-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night. Playing against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who played Wednesday night against St. Louis, the Blackhawks started strong, didn’t let up and got a little something from everyone. But the newest version of the second line stole the show.
There was a late-regulation scare when Schmaltz left the game favoring his left knee. But Quenneville said Schmaltz was fine and is expected to play on Saturday when the Blackhawks face the Columbus Blue Jackets. That concern gone, Quenneville could appreciate what that line did.
“That was amazing watching the speed, whether it’s Schmaltzy going through the middle of the ice, playmaking, patience in the offensive zone be it off the rush and in zone or cross-ice passes. They were doing it all tonight,” Quenneville said. “It was one of those nights where they were outstanding. They all complimented one another, all hit open spaces and they all hit those little holes and were extremely dangerous. It was a great start for them.”
Schmaltz and Kane worked together a lot this summer, trying to build on the chemistry they had in some games last season. While they’ve been together just about all of training camp Hartman was added to the line a few days ago – “Hartzy is one guy who gets to the net most, better than a lot of guys do,” Quenneville said. The trio didn’t get a preseason game together but that didn’t seem to matter.
“Felt great. You could probably tell we were having a good time, having fun with it,” Hartman said. “Kane made some great plays and Schmaltzy as well. Things were clicking. The whole team came out hot and ready to play. It was a good win for us.”
The night-and-day difference between Schmaltz last season to this one was evident on Thursday. The speed has increased. So has his confidence. Kane’s precision was stellar, from his spin-o-rama pass to set up Schmaltz’s first goal to his driving backhand goal early in the second period. Hartman had a steady drive to the net, his goal starting the Blackhawks’ five-goal barrage in the first period.
As first runs go, it was an impressive one for the Blackhawks. They’re feeling pretty good about their lines right now. The Hartman-Schmaltz-Kane trio didn’t have a lot of time together prior to the season opener but their timing was pinpoint on Thursday.
“It was almost like it wasn’t a real game. It was just amazing, a fun start to be a part of and I think we were just playing hockey,” Kane said. “It’s not like we were trying to run up the score. We were just playing hockey. It was fun to have that. Good start, don’t be satisfied, but you gotta be happy with the way we came out.”