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Fall is here. Training camp is over. The exhibition games have come and gone. The 2023-24 NHL season has begun, and, more importantly, so has the Connor Bedard era of Chicago Blackhawks hockey. Bedard and Kevin Korchinski got the solo rookie laps ahead of their NHL debuts. Then, it was time for the questions to end and the hockey to start.
The Blackhawks answered a big one — how competitive can they be this season — with a stirring 4-2 come-from-behind victory, scoring four unanswered goals to win Bedard’s much-hyped NHL debut.
The Pittsburgh Penguins struck first, just over seven minutes into the game. Bryan Rust’s shot was originally ruled no goal, but after a quick review, the tally was put on the scoreboard for the home team. After a slow offensive start to the second period, a failed zone clear by Taylor Hall turned into a Sidney Crosby goal and a 2-0 lead. Luke Richardson challenged the play for being offside but lost, forcing his team into a penalty kill. Thankfully, they responded by keeping the puck out of their net.
Moments after the big penalty kill, Ryan Donato scored off a rebound for his first as a Blackhawk. Bedard picked up his first NHL point on the play with the secondary assist.
The Blackhawks got back-to-back power plays early in the third period but could not convert. They went 0-for-4 on the night. Cole Guttman tied the game midway through the final frame thanks to a nice play by Seth Jones from below the goal line.
After Perry missed two power-play chances from point-blank range, he set up the winning goal. His pass was deflected and went right onto the stick of Jason Dickinson in the slot, who buried the puck behind Tristan Jarry. Petr Mrazek was fantastic in net for the Blackhawks, making 38 saves for his first win of the season.
The Blackhawks are right back at it Wednesday night in Boston.
Mario: It’s Different Now
If you want to look at what the Chicago Blackhawks *might* have felt like if Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, and Brent Seabrook never got hurt, or fell off their talent cliffs, these Pittsburgh Penguins would be the example. All the usual suspects of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, and even Erik Karlsson all gave-off the feeling of the “one last tour” of getting the band back together. Or rather, never breaking them up.
On the other side of the ice, and on this side of reality, were the 2023-24 Chicago Blackhawks without Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, the last two remaining players of the modern dynasty era Blackhawks. For the first time since the 2006-07 season, the Blackhawks would be taking the ice on opening night without any of those players. In their place comes the next era of hockey in Chicago led by Connor Bedard, Kevin Korchinski, and Lukas Reichel.
At this point last season, the vibes around the Blackhawks were dark clouds and gloom. Walking into the DNVR Bar for Blackhawks and Avalanche felt like walking into a lion’s den with shorts made by Charlie The Bacon Guy. The Blackhawks were ripe for dismemberment in nearly every contest during the 2022-23 season.
This year will not be that year.
The Penguins this season are not the Avalanche last season, but also this year’s Blackhawks team is not last year’s team and it felt that way all night. Despite trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Blackhawks led in shots on net with 17. They had 17 shots all game in the season-opener last year. Even going down 2-0, it didn’t feel out of reach.
Enter a four-unanswered-goals comeback.
This Blackhawks team is built to play its way out of danger. Unlike last season, where they just had to grind, grit, and will their way to just being in games, this team will still have that Luke Richardson instilled work-ethic, but a more balanced, NHL-quality lineup across the board. I know it’s just one game, but it already feels so much different and I don’t believe that will change.
Greg: Connor Bedard Nabs First NHL Point
Many Blackhawks fans started wondering what Bedard would look like in a Blackhawks sweater long before last season ended. On May 8, the Blackhawks won the draft lottery and then officially added the young phenom to the organization at the NHL Entry Draft in late June. This felt like one of the longest offseasons ever, but we finally made it to the PPG Paints Arena for opening night.
There was a ton of pressure on Bedard heading into opening night, but you wouldn’t know if from talking to him. He told reporters he slept like a baby the night before his NHL debut. He had a special moment by taking his first faceoff across from future Hall of Famer Sidney Crosby. After that, it was all business.
Bedard was active early. He had seven shot attempts in the first period, so he was unafraid to get the puck toward the net. His aggressiveness never wavered. He didn’t get his first NHL goal, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying. He finished the night with five shots on goal on 11 attempts.
The points are going to come, there is no doubt about that. However, Bedard’s first game at the faceoff dot was not great. He didn’t win a draw until the third period and went 2-for-13 overall. This is something that will improve with reps and confidence. Knowing the kid’s work ethic, this will be an area of his game he is going to grind away at.
Jay: Kevin Korchinski holds his own
Overshadowed by Connor Bedard’s NHL debut was another top draft pick making his own. Kevin Korchinski, chosen seventh overall in the 2022 NHL Draft, got his chance to show what he had, and held his own.
Young defensemen will often play as safe as possible, terrified to make a mistake, but Luke Richardson has encouraged Korchinski to play smart, not safe.
“You look for the opportunities when the other team breaks or cracks, and that’s when you go as a defenseman,” Richardson said after the morning skate. “He still has to not play the game safe…we just want him to play smart. When they play is not there, have an out. It’s okay to put it off the glass into the neutral zone. That’s hard for a guy coming from Junior that’s the best player, can skate everywhere with the puck. There’s going to be times where he thinks he can, and it doesn’t happen. We’ll remind him, but we have patience for that, and as long as that doesn’t keep happening, then I don’t think there’s an issue with it.”
I marked two negative plays.
In the first period, there was a miscommunication that lead and errant pass that ended up as icing. The next shift, and tired Korchinski turned the puck over. He recovered nicely and prevented a scoring chance.
Late in the second, Korchinski had an opportunity to shoot, and opted to pass into traffic. No harm no foul, but the Blackhawks would like to see him be more aggressive there.
I’m sure there were some moments I missed, but if a rookie defenseman playing against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Erik Karlsson in his NHL debut held his own like Korchinski did, that is a great sign.
Korchinski ended the game with one shot on goal, two blocked shots, and 19:19 of ice time.
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