Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in front of 22,196 fans — the largest crowd of the season — at the United Center on Saturday:
1. Blackhawks have no answer for Panarin-Dubois-Atkinson line
The Blue Jackets three leading scorers are Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin. A reason for that is they all play on the same line. And the Blackhawks had no answer for them.
Atkinson scored a goal, Dubois had a goal and an assist, and Panarin was named the first star of the game after scoring twice and adding a primary assist. Heck, the line nearly connected for a fifth goal but Atkinson was a smidge offside and it was overturned.
"I think we gave them their chances, whether we turned it over in the D-zone for a couple of their goals or they got a bounce going on a rush a couple times too," said Connor Murphy, who was on the ice for three of the five goals. "But they're a dangerous line and you gotta be more disciplined if you want to be better against them."
2. Struggling starts continue
The Blackhawks have been struggling out of the gates as of late. They gave up three more goals, and allowed 16 scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the opening frame, according to naturalstattrick.com.
Fortunately, they got one of their own when Patrick Kane found the back of the net to extend his point streak to 17 games. But the Blue Jackets — Panarin, who else? — responded 17 seconds later and then again with 46 seconds remaining in the period. The Blackhawks have now been outscored 8-3 in the first period in their past three games.
"We weren’t very good in the beginning of the game," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We were sloppy with the puck and too loose defensively, and they got some pretty good players who put the puck in the net. So we made it hard on ourselves. We looked like, for a bit, that we were going to get out of the period 1-1 and then obviously that was tough to go down two like that."
3. Sergei Bobrovsky staves off second-period push
After being outscored 3-1 in the first period, the Blackhawks completely controlled the tempo in the second period. They outshot the Blue Jackets 20-9, had 11 scoring chances at 5-on-5 to their six, and scored a goal with 33.6 seconds left to give them some momentum going into intermission.
But that's all they got, thanks to a two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie who stopped 39 of 41 shots for a save percentage of .951, with 33 of his 39 saves coming in the first two periods.
"He was good again tonight," Brent Seabrook said. "I think he's won the Vezina a couple times. Hell of a goalie."
4. Kane and Panarin share a moment
When the Blackhawks were in Columbus earlier this season, Kane and Panarin shared a funny moment at the end of warmups. Panarin waited for Kane to leave the ice before skating hard to the bench after Kane waved him on.
The bromance continued on Saturday night.
Kane and Panarin each took turns firing pucks at one another, with Panarin getting the last shot as Kane left ice. It was an enjoyable moment for Chicago fans between two former teammates who remain in touch.
"We have a pretty good relationship," Panarin said through a translator. "I kind of miss him a lot, so we decided to play around a little bit."
The new Alliance of American Football league is giving fans more of what they love on the weekend, even if it isn’t quite NFL quality on the field.
As you might expect, the Bears are tuning in too, to get another look at some of the talent available that could be headed back to the big league.
“Our pro scouts are all over that,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace told ChicagoBears.com. “We had pro scouts at their training camps that we sent down there. It’s really too early to say how many players are going to come out of there, but we’re going to be looking closely at it like we do every league.”
Pace and his scouts should already be familiar with quite a few players in the AAF who spent at least a little time in Chicago.
Former draft picks Evan Rodriguez and Will Sutton might be the biggest names among the former Bears, but plenty of UDFAs from the past are suiting up again for the next eight weeks.
Wide receiver Rashad Ross was one of the AAF’s leading receivers after the first week, and he spent part of the 2014 season with the Bears.
On the other side of the ball, cornerback De’Vante Bausby had a strong debut, just over two years since leaving Chicago in 2016.
Other top names in the AAF include former third-overall pick Trent Richardson and former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
And of course, Hall of Fame Bears linebacker Mike Singletary is the head coach of the Memphis Express.