If last night was any indication, it’s going to be a long season for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago started the game well enough, until a Calvin de Haan penalty midway through the first period. Tampa would capitalize just 31 seconds into the power play, with Ondrej Palat chipping a rebound past goalie Malcolm Subban for an early 1-0 lead. It was all downhill from there.
Mathieu Joseph and Anthony Cirelli would score within a two-minute span of each other late in the opening frame, giving the Lightning a 3-0 lead to end the period. Joseph scored after Subban had lost the puck in his crease and accidentally knocked it into his own net. Cirelli notched his first goal of the year with a nifty deflection after a defensive breakdown by the Blackhawks.
This. Deflection. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/DxwhZsEunt
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) January 14, 2021
The always-dangerous Steven Stamkos appeared no worse for the wear after an injury-plagued season last year, which kept him out of all but one game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Tampa Bay captain would score on the power play in the second period, cashing a one-timer from defenseman Victor Hedman. Stamkos would finish the game as the number one star, with one goal and two assists.
Early in the third, Brayden Point gave Tampa a 5-0 lead with a one-timer of his own. The Lightning had preserved the shutout all the way until the 16:36 mark of the last frame, when Blackhawks center Dylan Strome broke Chicago’s drought. Strome would score on a fluky deflection from behind the goal line, with the puck pinballing off of defenseman Eric Cernak and through the legs of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Unfortunately, Malcolm Subban did little to squash the concerns in net for Chicago. Rebound control has always been an issue with Subban, and last night was no different — particularly with the first two goals of the game. That said, Subban certainly didn’t have much help from his team up front, as the Blackhawks displayed the same defensive-zone breakdowns they had exhibited last year. Although Subban struggled with his rebound control, he did have flashes of strong play, including his spectacular save early in the third period on Alex Killorn.
MALCOLM SUBBAN! 😮
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) January 14, 2021
One bright spot for the Blackhawks last night was their high-energy fourth line, which consisted of Matthew Highmore, David Kampf, and Ryan Carpenter. Coach Jeremy Colliton’s other line combinations were essentially ineffective, and it was surprising to see rookie sensation Dominik Kubalik beginning the year in the bottom six. Kubalik was extremely quiet all game, as Colliton paired him with forward Brandon Pirri and rookie center Pius Suter. Chicago’s second line of Mattias Janmark, Lucas Wallmark, and Andrew Shaw was another “interesting” choice for a second line combination.
The Hawks’ defensive pairings didn’t fare any better. Adam Boqvist continued his struggles from the playoffs last year, as did veterans Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, and Calvin de Haan. Keith committed two penalties, while Boqvist and de Haan committed one each. Murphy was a part of the defensive breakdown the Hawks exhibited on Tampa’s third goal.
Chicago will need to correct these issues in a hurry, as they will once again play the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning this Friday. It will be interesting to see whether Colliton starts Subban or goes with one his other goalies in Colin Delia or Kevin Lankinen.
Captain Jonathan Toews (illness), defenseman Brent Seabrook (back), and forward Zack Smith (back) will be out indefinitely; while center Kirby Dach (wrist) and forward Alex Nylander (knee) are both expected to miss at least 4 months. Newly-acquired center Carl Soderberg (visa issues, required quarantine) is also slated to be out until the Hawks return from their Florida road trip on January 22nd, when they will face the Detroit Red Wings.
Due to Toews’ absence, Connor Murphy was awarded the third “A” by Colliton, alongside alternate captains Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.
“It really was an honor,” Murphy said. “I think we’re really privileged, lucky to be in this organization, wearing this jersey, these logos, putting it on every game. To see a letter there tonight was really special to me. Having guys out right now — ‘Seabs’ and ‘Tazer’ — and being on a younger team, it’s an opportunity for us to wear letters on different guys for some games. That was definitely an honor for me and I’m really grateful to be given that with a special team like this.”