NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Stan Bowman stands at the ready to jettison any of the Blackhawks’ many young players if they’re unable to keep up at the NHL level. But as he sat in his box shortly before Friday’s game and reflected on his team’s opening-night stumble against St. Louis, the rookies weren’t his concern
“We’ve only played one game so far, and it wasn’t the young guys; some of our more established players just didn’t have it,” he said. “The guys that have been here for a while, they’re the ones that are going to make this team go. Certainly, they have to perform to their level, and I think they will.”
Well, they still haven’t.
The Hawks fell to 0-2 on the young season with a second straight disconcerting effort, this time in a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators. It was a game that was all about one P.K. (Subban, who wasted no time jumping into the burgeoning rivalry with his signature mix of skill and physicality in his first game with the Predators, getting into it with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, among others) and another PK (the Hawks’ penalty-kill, which allowed three power-play goals for the second straight game).
Compounding matters, the Hawks lost rookie Ryan Hartman to a lower-body injury just two shifts into the game. Hartman had given the Hawks a spark with a goal in the opener and an assist on his first shift in Nashville, but appeared to hurt his leg during a goalmouth scrum. He limped along for a moment, even blocking a shot, but left the game and will “miss some time,” according to Joel Quenneville, who didn’t offer any more specifics.
The problem was discipline, as the Hawks had as many penalty minutes (24) as shots on goal. Eight of the nine penalties were taken by veterans, including a fighting major for Jonathan Toews (after James Neal caught him in the face with a high stick), two second-period penalties for Artem Anisimov, a Brent Seabrook closing-the-hand-on-the-puck penalty that negated a power play after just 18 seconds, and a Patrick Kane embellishment call after Subban knocked him down.
Toews called the penalties “a mix” of bad play and bad calls, but said the relentless parade to the penalty box was unacceptable. He called the PK “the gaping hole in our game.”
“The obvious issue is we’ve got to watch our sticks, we’ve got to be extra careful,” Toews said. “They’ll be looking for some of those calls. We’ve got to make sure we’re playing within the lines, and once we do get on the kill, which is going to happen, we’ve got to do a better job.”
The Blues attacked the Hawks’ PK from the outside, while the Predators went right through the middle. After Marcus Kruger batted in a Hartman rebound for his first goal since the triple-overtime winner in Anaheim during the 2015 playoffs, Subban scored his first Predators goal with Brian Campbell in the box. Niklas Hjalmarsson banked one in off the post to make it 2-1 Hawks, but a Toews holding-the-stick call led to Roman Josi’s power-play equalizer.
With Anisimov in the box for flipping the puck over the glass late in the second period, Mike Fisher tipped in a Josi shot to put the Predators ahead 3-2. After mustering just 11 shots through two periods, the Hawks finally started generating some 5-on-5 offense in the third period, but couldn’t beat Pekka Rinne. Hinostroza was robbed twice, Seabrook’s borderline hand penalty cost them a power play, and the Hawks couldn’t capitalize on one last Subban penalty with 1:46 to go, even with Corey Crawford pulled for an extra attacker.
“Across the board, we need to be better,” Quenneville said. “We need to be better with and without the puck, and in discipline, as well. We didn’t give up a ton, but certainly had opportunities to generate a little more. But it didn’t happen.”
It’s just two games, of course, and the Hawks will get another crack at the Predators on Saturday night at the United Center. But the frustration — particularly with the penalties and the penalty kill — is mounting early.
“It’s two games in, so there’s a lot of work to be done,” Duncan Keith said. “We don’t want to get down on [the PK], but unfortunately they made us pay the price the last couple of games. But I think we’re going to get better at it.”