The saving grace is that the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t start 0-2, especially against a New Jersey Devils team that no one projects as playoff-ready.
Dominik Kubalík’s power-play goal with 25.5 seconds remaining in regulation Friday salvaged a point in the standings.
But the Hawks believe they missed an opportunity during the 4-3 overtime loss in the Devils’ season opener at Prudential Center, especially because they coughed up a goal to new Devil Dougie Hamilton 17 seconds into the game.
Jack Hughes had two goals, and he secured the win when a bounce off a back wall during the Hawks’ zone time turned into a Devils odd-man rush. Hughes curved a shot around goaltender Kevin Lankinen for the victory.
“We try to take the positives out of every game,” defenseman Seth Jones said. “It’s great that — every point matters at the end of the season. I could say that. So it was a big comeback to get a point there. We just played a little inconsistent of a game.
“We didn’t start well. Then we start playing, then we stopped doing the things you need to do, the little things, the 50-50 battles and things like that. And then we try to turn it around again. We’re fortunate to get a point but we’ve got to find a way to put most of the game together.”
Said captain Jonathan Toews: “Give them credit, their forwards skate well and they’re on top of you and they’re quick on the transition, they make you go all the way back down low in your zone.”
That seems to be a consistent refrain from the Hawks, who gave up a goal 17 seconds into the game two nights after giving up three in the first half of the first period during a 4-2 season opening loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Consistency was an issue last season for a team that faded from playoff contention. At least some of this season’s inconsistency could be because of a made-over team trying to build chemistry on the fly.
“There’s definitely some of that,” Toews said. “Just linemates, (defensive) partners, guys being comfortable in the room to speak their mind. I think those things will fall into place, guys will get more comfortable. We’ll get better as a team in all areas of the game, so I’m not worried about that.”
Here are five takeaways from the game.
1. Another game, another slow start.
Obviously, falling behind 17 seconds in changed the complexion of the game. But after the slow start in Colorado, it felt like, “Here we go again.”
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Jones said about the sluggish opening minutes in both games. “It’s back-to-back home openers, and we have another one (Saturday). Obviously in front of the home crowd, they’re going to be jumping, they’re going to be flying, they’re going to be feeling good about themselves in a home opener. But we have to find a way to weather the storm.”
The Penguins home opener at PPG Paints Arena gives the Hawks “another chance to get through that first 10 minutes,” Jones said, “because you know they’re going to be flying for the fans. Play a solid game, get pucks in, get through the neutral zone clean and go from there.”
2. Cleaner (and smarter) offense can lead to better defense.
Much like the first game, when the Hawks had trouble making it to or staying in the offensive zone, it creates opportunities for takeaways and counterattacks.
“A lot of times you have ‘hope plays,’” Jones said, “and you try to force them to the middle right when you get in the zone and you’re in the zone for five seconds, that’s when it comes back on you like an odd-man rush and you’re playing the rest of your 40-second shift in the D-zone. I think holding onto pucks will do us a little bit better here.”
Coach Jeremy Colliton agreed, adding that the Hawks need to be more disciplined about the length of shifts and “change earlier, change before we’re tired, leave the next group in a decent spot.”
“Instead of staying 10 seconds longer and then, whether you’ve got to backcheck and play defense tired, or you end up changing on the backcheck and the other group has to battle 200 feet to gain possession. That would help,” Colliton said.
3. Jonathan Toews is feeling ‘good’ 2 games in.
Perhaps the most tiring task for the Hawks center is fielding questions about how well he’s managing his immune condition that saps his energy.
Over the last three weeks, he has had a full training camp, appeared in four preseason games and played 17 and 19 minutes, respectively, in two run-and-gun regular-season games against the Avalanche and Devils.
Toews said after Friday’s game that he felt “good.”
“Obviously two pretty fast-paced games, home openers for the teams we’re playing against,” he said. “Wish I could create more offense a little bit early on in the season so far, but it’s going to come. With Kuby and Kury (linemates Kubalík and Philipp Kurashev), we’re getting chances and we’ll keep getting better as a line as well.”
4. Seth Jones turned it around.
Jones’ minus-2 rating against the Avalanche didn’t tell the whole story of his debut with the Hawks, but he said himself, “The first game, I wasn’t good.”
But it was like night and day against the Devils. He looked more in the flow of the Hawks’ defensive system, laid a highlight-reel hit on Jesper Bratt in the second period, and without him the puck on Kubalík’s game-tying goal would’ve leaked out of the zone. Jones was credited with his first assist as a Hawk.
“Thought tonight I was a little more sharp,” Jones said. “I’ve got to be consistent. I’ve got to do it tomorrow, and the next game and the next game for our team.”
Colliton said Jones “did a lot of things at both ends. Skated well, defended well, defended hard, so it’s something we can build on.”
5. Marc-André Fleury returns to his old haunts Saturday.
Kevin Lankinen started the first leg of the Devils-Penguins back-to-back so Fleury could start against his old team in Pittsburgh, where he spent his first 13 seasons and won three Stanley Cups.
“The team has changed a lot, a lot of players are gone, but I still have some good friends on the team and the staff that have been around for a very long time,” he said.
There’s at least one chord common between his former team and the Hawks. They won a Stanley Cup then slipped progressively further way from contention in the following years. In the Penguins’ case, they catapulted from a first-round exit in 2014-15 to back-to-back Cups in ‘15-16 and ‘16-17.
“It is frustrating,” Fleury said. “Every year you expect to get back and win it again, and every time you don’t, it’s a failure. That’s why it gets so frustrating. I’m glad I was part of those teams that won it again later.”
Now, it’s back to the basics in many ways for Fleury.
“There’s a few new guys on the team, right? Sometimes it’s just getting used to each other,” he said.
He said he still is learning teammates’ voices so opponents don’t trick when they call for the puck. He’s getting accustomed to the nuances of the United Center — “I think the glass is good, not many bounces off the glass. The bottom of the boards are very quick.”
And as far as his harmony with the defense — Fleury’s just letting the defenders adjust to him, and vice versa, naturally.
“Every player has their habits or style. We have a system in place, we all have to get used to it and make it come easy without thinking,” he said. “There’s communication between me and the ‘D’ around the net, and that’ll just come with games played.”
6. Adam Gaudette didn’t have to wait long to get his chance.
Gaudette replaced Ryan Carpenter on the fourth line.
“The last preseason game wasn’t quite as strong in Minnesota there,” Colliton said before the game, “but overall he was on the puck, he protected the puck, he was able to get out of D-zone, skate it through (the) neutral zone.”
Friday night against the Devils, Gaudette played 8 minutes, 16 seconds and won both of his faceoffs.
Colliton said postgame that sometimes Gaudette got skipped in the rotation because of a power play or penalty kill, but “when he got out there he was solid. He did a good job of advancing the puck, making hard plays when he needed too and that (fourth) line had a couple of chances, (MacKenzie) Entwistle had the post there in the third. It’s something he can build on.”
While Gaudette’s priority on that line (for as long as he remains) will be pressure defense and forechecking, he brings an added offensive dimension if the right situation presents itself.
Said Colliton before the game: “He’s got a knack for getting inside where you score and he seems to just finds a way to get that puck in there. If him and his line can find a way to play in their end a little bit more, I feel like he can chip in offensively for us.”
7. A radio man tries his hand at TV.
John Wiedeman joined the TV booth for the first time in his 16th season as the Blackhawks play-by-play announcer on WGN-AM 720.
Weideman’s one of several guest voices who occasionally will fill in for Pat Foley, who’s wrapping up what will be a 39-year career this season.
Speaking to the Tribune during Friday’s game, Wiedeman said the difference in format between radio and TV threw him a bit at first. He snapped his fingers quickly while describing the pace of play-by-play descriptions on radio, then slowed it a bit to illustrate the more measured pace during broadcasts.
“You let TV show you” the action, he said.
While rehearsing it before the game, he fell back on an old mantra he learned from a friend who served in the Middle East: “You adapt, you improvise and you overcome — just like the military.”
Here is more game coverage.
Dominik Kubalík scored with 25.5 seconds left in regulation to send the Chicago Blackhawks to overtime, but Jack Hughes put to rest any ideas of an incredible comeback with an overtime goal to give the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 win at the Prudential Center.
The Hawks are 0-1-1 to start the season and play their third game Saturday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.
“Nice to come from behind and force overtime, give yourself some hope, but when we lose those, even in overtime, they don’t feel good,” Johnathan Toews said. “So you always have an easier time looking at the things that went wrong and things you can improve on when you don’t get two points.”
Added Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton: “We definitely had our stretches in the game where we were really good. I liked most of the second period, felt like we were close to taking over. Ultimately we’ve just got to find a way to be more consistent shift-to-shift so we can build momentum.”
“It was better at times, but it’s got to be better for longer to get the points we need. Nice comeback but sour way to lose for sure.”
Another Hawks slow start turned into quick deficit Friday night. The Hawks found themselves down 1-0 just 17 seconds into the game, thanks to the Devils’ star acquisition of the summer, Dougie Hamilton.
“That was tough,” Colliton said. “It’s not the way we wanted to start. We talked about having a good start. That would make it easier on ourselves.
“But at the same time, we battled back, got momentum back as the period went on.”
Alex DeBrincat put the Hawks on the board 51 seconds into the second period. Devils winger Janne Kuokkanen high-sticked Calvin de Haan late in the first, and DeBrincat planted a sharp-angle power-play goal with assists from Patrick Kane and Tyler Johnson.
Kirby Dach also scored his first goal of the season /in the third.
The Hawks spent a lot of the first period trying avoid another snowball effect like they had in a 4-2 loss in the opener, during which they gave up three goals to the Colorado Avalanche within a five-minute span in the first period. On Friday, the Devils had five takeaways in the first 3½ minutes, and the Hawks had to dig out of their zone rather than mounting attacks.
For the most part, Kevin Lankinen held steady in goal until Hughes scored a cheap goal one with 2:02 left in the second period.
In the third period, Andreas Johnsson poked in Dawson Mercer’s rebound off the iron before Lankinen could cover it. Tomas Tatar was also credited with an assist.
Like in the opener, Colliton mixed up the lines hoping the change would spark something.
He moved Dach to the top line with DeBrincat and Kane, a familiar grouping from last season, while Johnson centered a line with Henrik Borgström and Brandon Hagel.