For the second straight game, the Blackhawks made what seems like a powerful statement versus an Eastern Conference powerhouse, outscoring opponents in both games by a total of 15-2.
All that is really good—not to mention scoring balance, timely goaltending, speed, physicality.
The mitigating factors are that both were home games against opponents were coming off games in other cities the previous night, both playing backup goalies. And those things have to be taken into account.
While we can debate how heavily those things should be weighed ad infinitum, it will all be somewhat put to the test Monday night in Toronto, when the Hawks face another strong Eastern Conference team, fresh and rested, at the Air Canada Centre.
Until, then, let's focus on the clear positives in the Hawks' first two games:
1) The Hawks are once again a 2-line team
Last night, the Jonathan Toews line scored 3 goals (one each for Toews, Branson Saad and Richard Panik) and 5 total points. The Patrick Kane line generated two goals (one by defenseman Jan Rutta, set up beautifully by Kane) and 3 points between Kane and Ryan Hartman—Nick Schmaltz was knocked out of the game early.
Newsflash: hitting still matters in hockey.
While analytics jockeys have ordained that "hits are bad" and the province of meatheads, look no further than one man gang Richard Panik's epic end board hit on Seth Jones that led to the Hawks' third goal.
Not to mention, after taking a run at Nick Schmaltz and crosschecking Brandon Saad as he scored, Blue Jacket defenseman Jack Johnson paid a price in at least one big hit by Tommy Wingels, and some special attention the rest of the night from a couple of other Hawks.
"Pushback" matters. For too long, and especially last season, the Hawks were a small and somewhat timid team that opponents felt they could push around.
Don't think so? Go back and cue the tape of those 4 playoff games last year. In pro hockey, where the hits often hurt, knowing there will be a price to be paid for taking a run does engender second thoughts and/or a reluctance. Broken record time: this is why guys like Wingels and Lance Bouma (and to a degree a John Hayden) are around—not because Stan Bowman just decided one day to go out and drop a couple million dollars on guys the fans will hate or "dat Quenneville don't know nothin' about possession."
Over two games, this team has not been the physically reluctant team it was last year. They do push back, plenty enough. And it doesn't seem to affect the numbers on the board in any kind of negative way.
3) Speed and aggressiveness
Hawk defenders (blueliners and forwards) are challenging points and jumping passes to create rushes the other way—rushes that are generating open chances on the opponents goal through forward speed.
Defenseman Michal Kempny had another up and down night, but make no mistake. The power play that generated Brandon Saad's goal was set up by a rush and pinch where Kempny used his speed to draw a call.
Kane, Schmaltz, Saad and Panik are shredding opposing defenses with their speed—this is the kind of thing that causes opponents to play back on their heels, "tilting the ice" toward their end, and generally making it harder for them to create or maintain offensive zone pressure.
All that said, in truth, we won't know how good this team is for a while. So far, so great. And the signs for the long term fate of this club are really encouraging. I'll have a Toronto preview tomorrow.