The Blackhawks knew going into Wednesday's season opener that it was going to be a huge test right out of the gates against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. No preseason games didn't help, either.
Head coach Jeremy Colliton said before the game that getting their legs underneath them and having good habits was going to be an area of focus for the Blackhawks, especially in the first 10 minutes of the game. And they were objectively the better team over that stretch, outshooting the Lightning 6-1.
But, after that, it was all Lightning, who scored three first-period goals in a span of 7:18 and outshot the Blackhawks 32-16 the rest of the way en route to a 5-1 victory.
"I felt like we actually had a pretty good first 10 minutes and a couple bounces went their way," Dylan Strome said. "We were playing OK, but once you get down a couple against these guys, it's tough to chase the game. I thought we did some good things, but obviously not good enough."
The Lightning generated 24 scoring chances at even strength to the Blackhawks' 19, according to Natural Stat Trick. Both teams had their fair share of chances. But it was the reigning Stanley Cup champions that capitalized on them.
"They found a way to manufacture some offense," Colliton said. "I thought we had some chances that we didn't convert on. We did some good things, but our execution was lacking a few times where we could’ve made them pay and created a lot more and we just didn't. And then after 3-0, I didn't think we were good enough."
Malcolm Subban made a few spectacular saves — including an early Save of the Year candidate — but looked rusty in his season debut. He gave up five goals on 33 shots for a save percentage of .848, and most notably struggled with rebound control, which is something he's been trying to work on since the start of training camp.
"I felt like I made some good saves," Subban said. "That second one, you can't give up a goal like that against a team like that. I felt in the first period, there were a couple rebounds that can't go out there and their goals were generated off rebounds. Maybe if I kept those and made some stops then they don't develop that opportunity. Overall, I made some nice saves but I've got to look to build on that game."
The Blackhawks are going to review this game, dissect the negatives and try to build on the positives as quickly as possible. Because the Lightning will be waiting for them again on Friday.
"It obviously didn't go our way tonight, but there's no reason why we can't come back next game and show chemistry," Murphy said. "There's no crystal ball guessing when we're going to put it together, but we definitely need to work our tails off to make sure it happens soon."