Lopsided night raises hopes for Blackhawks, questions for Penguins | NHL

CHICAGO — The Blackhawks couldn’t have asked for more from their first game of the season. The Stanley Cup champion Penguins have plenty of questions to answer after their second.

Prior to the puck drop, Chicago fans got one last chance to salute Bryan Bickell and cheered Marian Hossa during pregame introductions. The national anthem was as loud and emotional as ever. Then the opening faceoff. Then…

Blackhawks goal. Blackhawks goal. Blackhawks goal. Blackhawks goal. Blackhawks goal.

That was before the first intermission.

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“It’s embarrassing,” Sidney Crosby said.

By the time the beatdown mercifully ended, the Blackhawks had dismantled the Penguins 10-1 on Thursday in a game between the two “rivals” who are frequently compared to each other. Each have won three Stanley Cups since the advent of the salary cap. They both have some of the game’s biggest stars and have enjoyed some of the NHL’s most iconic moments over the last decade.

“I think they’re both held in high regard for deserving reasons,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said before the game about the two teams. “They’ve accomplished a lot in the last decade or so in hockey. I think they’re both two organizations that pride themselves on doing things the right way.”

Only one team did anything right Thursday.

For one evening, everything the Blackhawks could have wanted happened and then some after a summer remodeling by general manager Stan Bowman.

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They looked fast. Their lines clicked and the revamped blue line showed promise. The Blackhawks scored 10 goals for the first time since Oct. 12, 1988, to set a franchise record for goals in an opening night. Patrick Kane proved he might not miss Artemi Panarin too much as the former MVP combined with linemates Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman for four goals and 12 points. In his first game back after the trade with Columbus, Brandon Saad had a hat trick.

It was, well, almost dreamlike, and at times the game felt surreal as the Blackhawks kept scoring and scoring and scoring.

“It was almost like it wasn’t a real game or something,” Kane said. “It was just amazing.”

However, it was also one night, and didn’t wipe away what happened last spring against Nashville. And it didn’t take back the Stanley Cup from the Penguins. But it sure felt good for the Blackhawks and their fans, who are in an unfamiliar place.

Even after what happened Thursday, the Penguins have what the Blackhawks were once expected to win every year. Unlike past years, the national expectations of the Blackhawks are relatively low. Nobody knows for sure whether Bowman overreacted to the desultory first-round sweep by jettisoning Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya in an effort to get younger and quicker and maybe a bit more salary cap flexibility.

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After what happened Thursday, the summer didn’t look wasted. Chicago also looked eager to get back on the ice for its first meaningful game since the 2016-17 season ended so poorly.

“We had a lot to prove. I can’t really say we’re angry still,” Hartman said. “It’s a new season, but we wanted to come out ready and show that we’re a contender.”

But there are two sides in a 10-1 game, and the Penguins did their part and looked nothing like a measuring stick for Chicago. Or anybody.

One night after raising their championship banner before a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis, the Penguins started Antti Niemi in net. After losing Marc-Andre Fleury to Vegas in the expansion draft, Pittsburgh is hoping Niemi can help keep Matt Murray fresh.

It was one night, and the Penguins were no closer to seeing what the former Blackhawks goalie can do. He gave up four goals on 13 shots and was pulled after allowing Saad’s goal to make it 4-0 9:16 into the game. Murray then allowed six more goals as Pittsburgh left its goalies out to dry repeatedly.

“The effort was there (Wednesday) night. We did a lot of good things,” Kris Letang said. “Tonight, there was no effort.”

It’s only two games, but the Penguins have their issues. The fact effort was one of them should be alarming so early, not to mention how ragged they looked all night.

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“It’s early, but it’s disturbing. When you lose a game like that it’s disturbing,” Sullivan said. “I don’t care when it is in the season. We’ve got to do some soul-searching and right now we are just simply not playing the game the right way. We’ve got a long way to go and it starts with a mindset.”

Over the past two seasons, they’ve played 213 games on their way to the two Cups. It might be too early to say those miles are adding up for the Penguins, but something isn’t right. They had chances to bat away questions about playing a back-to-back so early but wouldn’t use that excuse.

Crosby didn’t sound like he had many answers.

“I don’t know what to say, to be honest with you,” he said.

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