The Hawks won their first road game (technically) of the season Saturday afternoon (Chicago time) against the Florida Panthers in Finland. They did it in dominating fashion, scoring in each of the game’s three periods and shutting out the Panthers along the way. All told, the ending score was 4-0 with Annti Niemi posting his first career National Hockey League shutout in front of about 12,000 of his countrymen.
The Hawks didn’t wait long to notch a tally, either. Just over three minutes into the game, Brian Campbell took a rare slap shot on the power play, and blew it by Tomas Vokoun, who started both halves of the Finnish trip for the Panthers.
They added a couple more in the second, but not before they weathered the Panthers’ storm early in the frame. About five minutes into the period, Patrick Kane followed a Patrick Sharp shot with a backhand in traffic; it beat Vokoun up high and gave the Hawks their first two-goal lead of the regular season. Then, with less than a minute left in the frame and on the power play, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg found themselves in on a two-on-one after Sharp went to exchange his stick behind the play. Versteeg snuck a pass over to Sharp and Sharp beat Vokoun far side with a backhand that never left the ice.
The third period – save for a couple successful penalty kills – was dominated by the Hawks, a fitting end to a game they controlled much of. Dustin Byfuglien was the beneficiary of a big Brent Seabrook keep-in at the blue line. Seabrook blew up the Florida penalty killer and the loose puck found Big Buff, who beat Vokoun five-hole with a wrist shot just inside the circle.
A Little of This; A Little of That
— The Hawks’ power play went 3-for-5 with Campbell, Sharp and Byfuglien converting. The Hawks failed, though, to take advantage of a 5-on-3 midway through the second. At that time, though Quenneville has usually used Byfuglien and Kane together on the man advantage, Q went with the shooter over the big body, putting Toews and Kane with Sharp up front. Additionally, Toews won three straight face-offs with the two-man advantage, which allowed Barker to tee off from the blue line a few times.
— I have to state the obvious: Niemi looked very sharp. He’s a bit nerve wracking to watch, with his odd not-quite-butterfly style, but he stopped each of Florida’s 23 shots.
— Brent Seabrook has picked up where he left off last season, preying on opponents.
— A few Hawks have gotten off to great individual starts. Kane now has four points, including two goals, and Sharp, Seabrook and Byfuglien each have three points in two games, including Sharp’s two goals.
— It’s beginning to look again like Kane may be ready to jump into the NHL’s elite scorers. If Sharp, Byfuglien and Toews – especially Sharp – are able to keep up, the Hawks may not need Hossa come December.
— I think Big Buff is feeling the red, white and blues. At this pace, he’ll be an Olympian in February.
— Tomas Kopecky looks slow, but the fourth line, again led by Ben Eager, had a fantastic game this afternoon. As we said all last year, with Eager on, it allows Q to roll four lines, which few bench bosses are able to feel comfortable doing.
— He got quite a bit of airtime this afternoon, but John Madden played a wonderful game. When a team’s most tenacious backchecker is a veteran free agent addition, that can only mean good things. That will rub off on the younger players.
— All Brent Sopel has to do is be better than Matt Walker. So far … well, not so bad actually.
— Not saying, just saying: Rather than feeling extra pressure from the new captaincy last season, perhaps Jonathan Toews is just a slow starter. He’s yet to notch a point in the Hawks’ first seven goals and two games.