New-look Blackhawks off to a good start with win over Caps

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Jonathan Toews celebrates his second-period goal with his Blackhawks teammates on Sunday. (AP Photo)

Joel Quenneville isn’t even sure of Tomas Fleischmann’s nickname yet, let alone where he and the other new Blackhawks will be in the lineup when the playoffs roll around. But Quenneville certainly has an idea.

“Flash, or Fleisch, whatever you want to call him,” he said. “I think they call him Flash.”

Quenneville also thinks he’ll be a perfect fit on Teuvo Teravainen’s left wing, with Dale Weise slotting in on the right side. And he thinks Teravainen is best suited to be a center with some offensive-minded linemates. And he thinks Andrew Ladd is the ideal left wing for Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.

And he thinks Sunday’s 3-2 win over the league-leading Washington Capitals was a good first step in shaping his new-look roster — seven of the 12 forwards on the ice Sunday were not on the team last year — into what he wants it to be come April.

“It’s almost like at the start of the season,” Quenneville said. “You forecast what you’d like to see the lines be. … But you might not even get that chance if you like how things are going.”

So far, so good. Even without Weise (visa issues) and Hossa (out until next weekend, at least), the Hawks immediately looked like a deeper, more dangerous team against the Capitals, with a true four-line rotation. They withstood an early barrage during a lopsided first period that Quenneville said was “hard to watch” — the Capitals outshot the Hawks 17-6 — then held on for a hard-fought victory in a scintillating game between the two favorites to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Of course, for all the excitement generated by the return of Ladd, the arrival of Fleischmann and the pending arrival of Weise, the Hawks still are Jonathan Toews’ and Patrick Kane’s team. Kane scored 31 seconds after Marcus Johansson’s first-period power-play goal staked the Capitals to an early 1-0 lead, and Toews added a power-play goal — off a beautiful feed from Teravainen, who played one of his best games after getting the clear vote of confidence from management — to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.

Dennis Rasmussen scored off a soccer-style kick-pass from Richard Panik to make it 3-1 in the third, and that stood as the game-winning goal after the Capitals drew to within one goal on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 5-on-3 goal with 3:21 to go in the game.

The wealth of talent in Chicago is one of the most attractive aspects of the Hawks for incoming players. Like Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette before him, Ladd is going from The Guy in Winnipeg to just a guy in Chicago.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the top guys, maybe three or four of us in Winnipeg, to lead the way in that aspect,” said Ladd, who had the secondary assist on Toews’ goal. “I feel you come here and it’s different guys stepping up every night. For a guy like me, I don’t feel like I have to score, and that’s a big thing for me, because I feel if I just check, a lot of good things happen. I can focus on playing that simple game.”

It was quite a first game for Ladd and Fleischmann, a nationally televised matinee and possible Stanley Cup Final preview. But while the Hawks are jockeying with the Dallas Stars for the top seed in the Central Division and the Western Conference — the win moved the Hawks one point ahead — the final six weeks of the regular season are more about molding this thrown-together group of forwards into a cohesive, consistent unit.

“It’s exciting that we got those guys coming into the lineup, and that we’re able to make those moves that we did,” said Corey Crawford, who outdueled the league’s top goalie, Braden Holtby, with 28 saves. “And I thought they came in strong right from the start, and they’ll just get better and better with their linemates that they were with today. We just want to keep that going and build that momentum.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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