The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2021-2022 NHL Regular Season got off to a rocky start on Thursday Wednesday night. The Hawks were pitted against the Colorado Avalanche, who are currently a +475 odds-on favorite by Draftkings to win the Stanley Cup this year.
Colorado jumped to a quick 3-0 lead, fueled by a raucous crowd in their home opener. Jack Johnson would open the scoring less than five minutes into the game, scoring a beautiful breakaway goal after newly acquired Blackhawks Jake McCabe and Tyler Johnson got tangled up at Chicago’s blue line.
Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog scored less than two minutes later off a crazy deflection that caromed off two Avs players before reaching the net. Defenseman Bowmen Byram would score his first NHL goal at the 9:34 mark with a top-corner laser-beam past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 3-0.
Chicago was all but dead in the water until Alex Debrincat drew a hooking penalty against J.T. Compher late in the period. The Hawks would cash in on the power play, compliments of a blistering one-timer by Dominik Kubalik. Chicago would then kill a too-many-men penalty to escape the frame down by two.
The Blackhawks dramatically improved their game beginning in the second period. Kirby Dach was especially noticeable, with two glorious breakaway chances in the middle frame, but was unable to finish against newly-acquired Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper. On Dach’s second foiled breakaway opportunity, the Avs would score in the same shift, with Nazem Kadri chipping the puck past Fleury to make it 4-1.
The Hawks continued to press, with Connor Murphy scoring late in the third to make it 4-2, but Kuemper would seal the deal for Colorado. Kuemper finished the game as the second star, with 32 saves and a .941 save percentage. Captain Gabriel Landeskog would add insult to injury late in the game with a dirty and dangerous hit on Kirby Dach, who was on his knees and against the boards in the neutral zone. The hit garnered Landeskog two two-minute penalties (boarding and roughing). Luckily, Dach was okay and finished the game.
Last night was the regular season debut of many new Blackhawk players acquired recently, including Marc-Andre Fleury, Seth Jones, Tyler Johnson, Jake McCabe, Henrik Borgstrom, and Jujhar Khaira. Tyler Johnson seemed to struggle the most, finishing with a -3 rating. Jones also had a subpar night defensively, but improved as the game went on, while logging a ridiculous team-high 28:19 of time on ice. Although Fleury finished with a .889 save percentage, it would be unfair to blame him for the majority of the Avalanche’s goals.
The game also marked a so-called battle of the draft picks between Chicago’s Kirby Dach (2019 3rd overall) and Colorado’s Bowen Byram (2019 4th overall). Many analysts had predicted Chicago would take Byram, who played like he had something to prove against the team that passed on him, netting a goal in the process. Dach also played like someone with a chip on his shoulder and was arguably the best Blackhawk on the ice last night, even though he failed to convert on his many scoring chances.
Lastly, the game marked the regular season return of Blackhawk captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the entire 2021 season due to an illness called Chronic Immune Response Syndrome (CIRS). Toews had not played a regular season or playoff game since August 18, 2020, which was a Game 5 series-ending loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference First Round. Last night, Toews finished with an even rating, 2 shots, and a stellar 66.67 faceoff percentage.
The Blackhawks will look to rebound against the New Jersey Devils on Friday, before a back-to-back against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. The game against the Penguins will be the Blackhawks’ third consecutive road game in 4 nights to start the year. Chicago’s home opener will be October 19th against the New York Islanders.