Penalties cost Blackhawks in season-opening loss to Blues

Penalties cost Blackhawks in season-opening loss to Blues

Ryan Hartman’s goal drew a big cheer from the United Center crowd, and at that moment the Blackhawks looked like they were making the most out of what had otherwise been a lackluster second period.

But not long after that things started to go wrong. Penalties were called, one after the other. And a few penalty kills – or lack thereof – later, the Blackhawks lost the lead, the momentum and eventually the game.

Hartman scored the first goal of his NHL career but the St. Louis Blues scored three power-play goals en route to a 5-2 victory over the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. It was a frustrating season opener for the Blackhawks, who were working in a lot of new faces and missing Niklas Hjalmarsson (suspended for the opener) and Andrew Desjardins (out 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury).

The Blackhawks missed those two players on the penalty kill, which struggled in giving up one 5-on-3 and two 5-on-4 goals. Kevin Shattenkirk and Paul Stastny each had a goal and two assists for the Blues.

Thanks to the penalties and goals allowed, those final few minutes of the second and first few minutes of the third were forgettable. 

“Yeah, you get two 5-on-3s in a short amount of time, give away the momentum of the game,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We put ourselves in a tough spot. The first you could say, OK. The second one was marginal. Then we take one and we’ve got to start the third period with fresh ice. Tie hockey game and we’re hoping to get through it and we didn’t.”

The Blackhawks were expecting some bumps in these first few games, considering the youth installed in the lineup. Veterans played a bulk of the minutes; fourth liners Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Jordin Tootoo played anywhere from four to nine minutes total – Tootoo played just 4:26. Part of that was how the game went, and the Blackhawks either trying to kill off penalties or get their top offensive guys out there to aid in a comeback.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

But overall, the Blackhawks weren’t happy with this one. They managed just 19 shots on goal, being outshot 15-3 in the second period.

“We didn’t do a whole lot of what we wanted to. Just our energy, speed and work ethic wasn’t quite there,” Jonathan Toews said. “So we have to regroup, try to come with that energy in the next one and obviously play a little bit smarter too. We didn’t manage the puck well and if you’re not firing on all cylinders and playing at the highest speed, winning your races, winning your battles, eventually you’re going to take penalties and eventually give up scoring chances. we did a lot of that tonight.”

This is going to be a work in progress for the Blackhawks. Young guys will have to adjust. The penalty kill has to improve. So does the overall game.

“There’s no split in our team that’s young guys and veteran players. It’s everybody together,” Toews said. “As a group we weren’t good enough tonight.”

Four takeaways: Jets win in overtime, but Blackhawks building momentum

Four takeaways: Jets win in overtime, but Blackhawks building momentum

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center on Friday:

1. Top guns lead the charge for Jets

The Jets are one of the best teams in the NHL because they're absolutely loaded up front and get their scoring from everywhere. The Blackhawks know this of their Central Division foes and after seeing them for the third time in two weeks.

On Nov. 29, it was Nikolaj Ehlers who had a hat trick. On Tuesday, Kyle Connor had a two-goal night. On Friday, it was Mark Scheifele (two goals, one assist) and Blake Wheeler (three assists) leading the way for the Jets with three-point efforts. The top guys have been a thorn in the Blackhawks' side this season, with Scheifele scoring the game-winner 50 seconds into overtime for their third victory against Chicago in 15 days.

"You can play really well against them for 58 minutes, but it only takes just an instant and then it’s in the back of your net," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "That’s something that we gotta learn, to play against those guys and in those situations if you’re going to be able to go head-to-head. A lot of it we were really good, we had let downs and it made it tough for us. But we did a lot of good things."

2. Last-minute goals

In all three periods, there were last-minute goals that changed the flow of the game. 

After the Jets took a 1-0 lead in the first period, Jonathan Toews responded for the Blackhawks with 10.2 seconds left to even it at 1-1. In the second, Mathieu Perreault scored on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box with 18 seconds remaining to put the Jets back in front 3-2. And then in the third, Erik Gustafsson tied it at 3-3 with 7.5 left to force overtime. 

"It's tough after a loss in overtime, but it felt good," said Gustafsson, who missed the previous two games with an illness. "I didn't know it was 7 seconds left, but it was good to see it go in. ... It was good to be back here with the team, too. I wasn't in the last game. We came out hard the first period and I think we played a solid 60 minutes. Tough break in the overtime."

3. Captain Consistency

Toews usually produces on the scoresheet in spurts. Historically, he'll go through stretches where his offense dries up for several games in a row. And then he'll follow that up by getting really hot. This season has been different.

The Blackhawks captain's longest point drought this year is three games. After scoring two more goals, his season total is up to 16 through 34 games, taking over the team lead from Patrick Kane. He had 20 goals in 74 games last season, showing just how far he's come from a year ago.

Toews is on pace to finish with a career-high 39 goals — his current personal best is 34, set in 2008-09. The Blackhawks need him to continue producing at that rate, and there's no reason he can't.

"Our line played well and created a lot of chances," Toews said. "If it's me scoring or [Dominik Kahun] or [Brandon Saad], it doesn't really matter. As long as we're making plays when we've got the puck out there, we're happy about that."

4. Jets power play stays hot

The best advice when you play the Jets: Stay out of the penalty box. Because they'll make you pay.

Entering Friday, they had the top-ranked power play with a 30.4 percent success rate. The Blackhawks gave them three opportunities and they cashed in on one, giving them eight power-play goals on 17 attempts in their past four games (47.1 percent conversation rate). They also improved to 5-for-11 (45.5 percent) in three games against the Blackhawks.

To the Blackhawks' credit, they killed off two key penalties in the third period before the first TV timeout and it allowed them to keep it a one-goal game and ultimately force overtime by scoring the next goal.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Dylan Strome the key to the Blackhawks success?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Dylan Strome the key to the Blackhawks success?

SportsTalk Live hits the road. Jimmy Greenfield and Scott King join Kap at Queenie's Supper Club and Cocktails at the United Center.

0:00- Pat Boyle joins the panel to discuss the Blackhawks' much-needed win over the Penguins and look ahead to what young players will be key when the Hawks compete for a playoff spot once again.

5:00- It's a big game for the Bears Sunday night. The guys debate whether or not the Beloved can finally beat Aaron Rodgers at Soldier Field to clinch the NFC North?

8:00- Will Perdue joins the panel to talk about the state of the Bulls. He discusses the Jabari Parker trade rumors, the Bulls leadership committee and the former NBA champ gets emotional when he talks about how the Bulls dysfunction affects him.

21:00- Patrick Sharp joins the guys to talk about the Blackhawks' mindset to end their 8-game slide and tells the guys why Dylan Strome may be the key to the Blackhawks success in the future.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast