Top six must deliver early, often for Blackhawks

Top six must deliver early, often for Blackhawks

Patrick Kane said he wouldn’t have minded if he and Artemi Panarin were split to start the season.

“I could understand why people would be up in arms one way or another about changing the line,” he said. “But I’ve played with pretty much everyone here except some of the younger guys that are coming up.”

Still, if ain’t broke...

So Kane, Panarin and Artem Anisimov are together again. So are Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on the top line, where they’ll be with Richard Panik. The Blackhawks are loading up their top two lines heading into the season, which begins Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues. And with so many young forwards with little to no NHL experience on the third and fourth lines, the onus is going to be on that top six.

It would be easy –— and for the Blackhawks, great — to think that the second line will immediately build off last year’s numbers. But Kane said throwing the three back together doesn’t mean the same results will automatically show.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Five questions facing the Blackhawks as regular season begins]

“I think for us it’s important not to just think it’ll happen again,” he said. “We have to do what we did last year: work hard, try to get the puck back and when we get the puck back, work our magic a little bit. The biggest thing is work, especially with us three.”

As much as the Blackhawks would love to see the second line repeat what it did last season, they’d like the top line to get back to where it was prior to last season. Panik, who played on the top line some late last season, gets the first crack at it as the Blackhawks try to avoid playing the turnstile-at-left-wing game again. But overall, that line has to produce more.

“It’ll be huge for us,” Toews said of his line scoring early this season. “But again, we just want to go play with energy, play with excitement, and have fun. We know those results are going to come. I think last year, it was maybe a rougher start and then we were kind of forcing it as the season went along. It got maybe even more mentally tiring as that burden got bigger and bigger as the season went along. The start’s important, but we know we’re excited about things. Just play good hockey.”

The Blackhawks are revamped again this season, especially at forward. They’ll need the young players to do their part. They’ll need their veterans to do even more.

“I know that as a young kid or a veteran guy, I think you’re looking to get off to a great start and know how important, how tough it is to make the playoffs, have success early on in the year,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We have a tough division, a tough conference. Both sides [young guys and veterans] have got to be looking to deliver their part and hold up their end of the bargain. I would say our guys have handled all situations extremely well. It seems like the bigger the challenge, the bigger game, they rise and they meet it head on.”

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.

Four takeaways: Alex DeBrincat salvages divisional game for Blackhawks in overtime on Duncan Keith’s special night

Four takeaways: Alex DeBrincat salvages divisional game for Blackhawks in overtime on Duncan Keith’s special night

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Saturday night:

1. Special night for Duncan Keith — and Brent Seabrook

The Blackhawks celebrated Keith's 1,000-game milestone in the perfect way. Every player wore a No. 2 jersey during warmups, his family was on the ice for the pregame ceremony, and Patrick Sharp made an appearance to present Keith with a silver stick. Seabrook was also paired with Keith among the starters, a great touch by Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff.

But it was also a historic day for Keith's partner and close friend Seabrook, who became the franchise leader in games played by a defenseman, surpassing Bob Murray who previously held that mark at 1,008. It's only fitting Keith and Seabrook shared that moment together.

"We've been riding shotgun together for our whole careers," Keith said. "I couldn't imagine my career, my 1,000 games without him and all the experiences and memories that I've had winning and even losing, and the fun times we've had off the ice. I owe a lot of my success, and I think the team does as well, to Brent and what he means to the team and what he brings to our friendship and as a teammate."

To put a bow on the game, Keith had a vintage Keith moment on the game-tying goal in the third period when he intercepted a pass in the neutral zone on his backhand, then fed Toews a dart leading him into the offensive zone that set up DeBrincat's goal. 

2. Alex DeBrincat's torrid start

The Blackhawks continued to get contributions from their top players such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom extended their point streaks to five games to open the season. But DeBrincat has propelled himself into that conversation as a top player on this team.

He had a multi-goal effort for the second straight game, upping his goal total on the season to a team-leading six. His overtime winner is the first of his NHL career in that fashion.

DeBrincat didn't score his sixth goal until Nov. 12 last season, which was the 18th game. And he still finished with 28. While it's hard to envision him continuing to score at more than a goal-per-game pace, it's not hard to see him continuing to be one of the best players on the ice and generating offense and scoring chances on a nightly basis.

"I think I'm getting pretty lucky right now," DeBrincat said. "I'm playing with [Toews] and [Dominik] Kahun, they're making great plays and getting me the puck. It's pretty easy when you have those guys as your linemates. Even on that last goal, [Erik Gustafsson] made a great pass backdoor to me. Pretty easy tap in."

3. Squandering another two-goal lead

The Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead for the third straight game. And they squandered it for the third straight game, in large part because they committed five straight penalties in the second and third periods.

It's no longer a blip at this point and is becoming an alarming trend, even though the Blackhawks have come back to force overtime in each of those three games. That will be something the Blackhawks work on all season long.

But Quenneville would have liked to have seen the Blackhawks keep their foot on the gas pedal and cash in on their opportunities to make it a 3-0 game.

"Score the third goal," he said. "I loved the way we were playing. We had a lot of good things going. Eventually they’re going to get chances, get opportunities. But we had some great chances to get it to three. It was one of those nights, every game is kind of different how the leads changed."

4. Brotherly love

For the first time in the NHL, the Schmaltz brothers finally got their chance to go up against each other at the highest level. There had been a handful of other opportunities in the past, but it never lined up for a variety of reasons. 

They didn't see much of each other while on the ice — they were on together for only 1:30 of the game — but Nick did commit a penalty that led to Jordan assisting on the Blues' first goal on a delayed call. 

The best battles between Jordan, who turned 25 on Oct. 8, and Nick, 22, came when they were kids.

"We had a little roller rink downstairs in our house growing up," Nick said. "It would be me vs. my sister (Kylie) and my brother. Those were probably the best battles. Someone would usually come up crying or high-stick or puck to the face or something like that. A lot of good memories. Looking back at it, it was awesome to have that and work on each other’s game and push each other to get better."