Last season, I went to a handful of Blackhawks games at the end of the season and each time, I said to myself, “maybe this will be Hossa’s 500th goal”.
We waited. And we waited. And we waited. And no goals came.
I picked up a ticket to Tuesday’s game because they were selling for less than face value online (thanks, Cubs). Besides that, I wanted a chance to see some of the Flyers’ young players in person. I’m sure somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew we were still waiting on Hossa’s 500th. But I was more excited to get to see guys like Shayne Gostibehere and Travis Konecny than I was to cross my fingers for a milestone event.
I haven’t watched a lot of hockey yet this season; travel and the Cubs have been a bit of a time drain. So I forgot exactly how slow and plodding early season hockey can be. I wanted a little something more.
I’m going to regret saying this, but this game could be a lot more exciting.
— Dean Lombardi 🎃🎃🎃 (@goorgoahead) October 19, 2016
Spoilers: I came to regret that tweet.
The Blackhawks jumped out to an early lead thanks to a few familiar faces. Fans were still settling into their seats when Patrick Kane scored under a minute into the game. Artem Anisimov displayed great patience with the puck, waiting until the perfect moment to pass. Kane missed on his initial attempt but took the puck around the back of the net and poked it in on the other side instead for his first goal of the season.
Both teams went long stretches in the first without gaining much traction, but Dennis Rasmussen (of all people) broke the game back open for the Blackhawks with just under three minutes left. A Rasmussen breakaway where he slipped the shot five-hole is clearly the exact play everyone expected. Or, you know, not. Less than a minute later, Artemi Panarin added to the score on the power play, giving the Blackhawks a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period.
Marian Hossa got his 500th goal in a rather unassuming fashion early in the second. There were no grand heroics, no wicked shot, no puck squeezed through an impossibly small hole. It was, however, pretty classic Marian Hossa: drive to the net on a power play, make a defender look foolish, send the puck home. The crowd at the United Center gave Hossa an extended ovation, and the Flyers vacated the ice to give Hossa his moment alone to acknowledge the achievement.
And then the Blackhawks forgot how to play hockey for approximately five minutes. They allowed one late goal in the second (predictably on a Flyers powerplay) and a perplexing three goals against in under four minutes to start the third. They couldn’t even keep up with the goal announcements in the United Center. When I said I wanted exciting, watching the Blackhawks squander a four goal lead wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
Fortunately, the second line showed up by the end of the game to do exactly what we expected of them: dominate. Anisimov, Panarin, and Kane were dangerous around the net, combining for thirteen shots, and, eventually, eleven total points. Anisimov collected his first two goals of the season and Panarin added his second of the night, putting the game out of reach for the Flyers.
Seeing the Blackhawks make a game harder than it needs to be is a pretty common sight. It was encouraging to see that they didn’t fold and were able to kill off a late penalty when the game was still in doubt.
- Discipline is still key for this team. While the penalty kill is ailing, it’s even more crucial to stay out of the box. The Flyers had been previously unsuccessful on the power play, but leave it to the Hawks’ PK to break that slump. Many of the calls have been on careless stick infractions, which at least is easier to combat than penalties due to tempers boiling over. With fewer of the veteran players are winding up in the box, now all of the rookies need to figure out how to play on the right side of the line.
- I haven’t actually been able to watch all that much of the Blackhawks lately, outside of the season opener. And we all know that TV doesn’t show us everything we need to see. So this was the first time I was able to really pay attention to the team as a whole on the ice, and, uh, yikes. There are definitely flashes of brilliance, even from some of the players who I keep wanting to see more from. My biggest concern was Seabrook and Kempny, who don’t look great together. They’re still clearly learning how the other plays, and for Kempny there may be a language issue. But every time they passed the puck in front of their own net, I felt an overwhelming fear that it was going to wind up in the back of their own net. Fingers crossed that this gets worked out sooner rather than later.
- Everyone loves Marian Hossa. As I was leaving the United Center, the halls still rung out with chants of his name. When I finally found myself giving into Blackhawks fandom, the decision of which jersey to get was a tough one. Eventually I selected Hossa, and I can’t say that I’ve ever had reason to regret it.
- In a perfect world, Dennis Rasmussen will stay in the lineup once all available forwards are back, and Jordin Tootoo will sit. That decision is prolonged by Marian Hossa’s minor injury, sustained in the third, which will keep him out of tonight’s lineup. Once Hossa is ready to go, let’s all hold our breaths to see if Quenneville makes the smart decision, or the expected one.
The Blackhawks take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus tonight, on the first part of a back to back. They return home Saturday for a tilt against the Toronto Maple Auston Matthewses.
(Photo: Sarah Avampato)