Like just about every other sequence during the second period Wednesday night, this one started as some sort of tragi-comic farce. Tyler Motte, in his first NHL game, raced up the middle of the ice at full speed, only to trip over Ryan Hartman’s lost stick and faceplate near the blue line. But the two rookies just kept going.
Hartman saved a Robert Bortuzzo clearing attempt at the blue line, then fired wide. Motte darted behind the net and won a battle to nudge the puck back to Hartman on the doorstep, and Hartman buried it for the first goal of his NHL career.
“I told Hartzy to go get a big shift there, and he responded,” Jonathan Toews said. “It was good to see that, those two guys respond.”
Of course, the Hawks were outshot 15-3 in that period, and had just three shots over a 34-minute stretch spanning all three periods. And veterans Artem Anisimov, Toews, and Duncan Keith took three overlapping penalties late in the period that led to two St. Louis goals. And the Hawks killed just two of five St. Louis power plays. And all four rookie forwards played three minutes or less in the first period.
Heck, the game was sealed when Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith combined to score on their own empty net in the final minute.
The opening-night 5-2 loss to the Blues was probably a good indicator of what to expect from these Hawks as they feel things out the first few games — weeks? months? — of the season. A mix of good and bad, of genuine hope and legitimate concern. It’s a long season, and the Hawks have a lot of things to figure out.
“We’ve got a good group and we’ve got a lot of confidence from the top down,” Motte said. “As a group we know we can be better. We weren’t firing on all cylinders tonight. Young guys or not, we’ve all got to take it upon ourselves to be better.”
It started well enough. Another rookie, Michal Kempny introduced himself to Hawks fans and to Dmitrij Jaskin with a big hit along the boards, and Richard Panik put the Hawks up 1-0 on a power-play goal at 4:38 of the first period, putting in a Toews rebound. But there were signs of trouble, too, especially with how little Joel Quenneville was trusting his bottom six, where all four rookies were situated. Only Motte wound up with more than nine minutes of ice time in the game, thanks to his spot on the penalty-killing unit alongside Marcus Kruger.
“We’d like to play them more,” Quenneville said. “The way the game went, we got behind early in the third and then we’re chasing it. We’d like to play everyone a little more, and not our top guys as much.”
The Hawks didn’t get a shot over the last half of the period, and then fell back into a tie when a Trevor van Riemsdyk penalty led to a Kevin Shattenkirk power-play goal at 4:52 of the second. Motte and Hartman got the arena rocking again with their hard-work goal at 13:57 of the second, but then the Hawks imploded.
Toews was called for a slash, Anisimov for a hook, and Keith for a high-stick. Vladimir Tarasenko tied it 2-2 on the first 5-on-3, and Paul Stastny gave the Blues a 3-2 lead during the Keith penalty early in the third. It could have been worse, as van Riemsdyk — likely the leading candidate to sit Friday when Niklas Hjalmarsson returns from his suspension — took another penalty, this time for boarding.
“Put ourselves in a tough spot,” Quenneville said. “A tough start, PK-wise, but we have the personnel that we feel can get the job done.”
Quenneville shook up the lines in the third, and got a spark from an all-kid line of Motte, Hinostroza and Hartman, which generated a power play midway through the third. But the Hawks couldn’t capitalize, and Tarasenko’s empty-netter with 1:06 left sealed their fate, before the own-goal ended it for good.
There will be a learning curve for the rookies, but it’s a long season. And the Hawks hope these early growing pains could pay off down the road. But with one down and 81 to go, nobody’s particularly happy.
“Everyone takes ownership for that effort and it starts with the guys that have experience and know what’s expected of our team,” Toews said. “In that regard, we have to lead the way and set the tone. We didn’t do that well enough tonight. Everyone’s responsible.”