Hockey fans think their Blackhawks can walk on water, anyway, and on Wednesday night Chicago's boys of winter tried to comply. A rainstorm guaranteed that a few hundred attendees would really be able to soak up the annual opening night ceremony on West Madison Street. All players were dressed immaculately, as usual. Some opted for umbrellas. Beneath, the path was a red carpet, waiting to become the red sea.
Unfortunately for the crowd of 21,729, all of whom were bequeathed LED bracelets to fortify a light show, conditions indoors were also just this side of inclement. The St. Louis Blues scored three power-play goals plus two into an empty net to muffle the Blackhawks 5-2 before Anthony Rizzo, Olympian Simone Biles and a national television audience.
After local lad Ryan Hartman clicked for his first National Hockey League tally, Tyler Motte having steered him the puck midway in the second period, the Blackhawks led 2-1 in the first meaningful home game since April 23-a long, long time between faceoffs. Regrettably for the Blackhawks, Hartman's effort was one of only three shots in that session, against 15 by the Blues, who feasted on a spate of penalties to tie it during a 5-on-3 advantage, then win it early in the third during a 5-on-4.
Despite all the aforementioned fouls, the rivalry renewed wasn't as cranky as it often is. Jonathan Toews thought his side lacked energy, and nobody in the building would beg to differ. Richard Panik, who flanked Toews and probably would like to stay there, initiated the scoring on an early power play. Kevin Shattenkirk matched it, also during a man advantage.
It's a myth that when Head Coach Joel Quenneville sees young players approaching the United Center, he hangs out the "No Vacancy" sign. In fact, he pays no more attention to a birth certificate than to payroll pecking order. Was Brandon Saad a grizzled veteran when he caught Coach Q's eye? Quenneville didn't know anything about Trevor van Riemsdyk, but the young defenseman earned a place. Andrew Shaw had no resume or pedigree, but Quenneville found a role for him.
Thus, the Blackhawks commence the season with six rookies, almost a third of the manpower on a roster expected again to contend for a Stanley Cup. Motte, Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz, Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling. Kempny, 26, is not technically a rookie but Wednesday night did mark his NHL debut. Dennis Rasmussen, who played some here last season, almost experienced his first opening night. He was a healthy scratch. Also, Brian Campbell was back on the blue line, exercising a happiness clause to resettle in Chicago.
Minus Niklas Hjalmarsson, who will be out on parole Friday night in Nashville, the Blackhawks began with Duncan Keith on defense alongside van Riemsdyk, Kempny with Brent Seabrook and Campbell beside the training camp surprise, Forsling. Up front, another new face, Jordin Tootoo, began with Schmaltz and Hinostroza, but sat for the third period when the Blackhawks needed goals, not introductions.