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Blackhawks growing pains start with loss to rival Blues

Like just about every sequence during the second period Wednesday night, this one started as some sort of comic-tragedy. 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.

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, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith took three overlapping penalties late in the period that led to two St. Louis goals. 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 Hawks’ 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.

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.

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 3-2 lead during the Keith penalty early in the third. It could have been work, as van Riemsdyk — likely the leading candidate to sit Friday when Niklas Hjalmarsson returns from his suspension — took another penalty, this time for boarding.

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 hmidway 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 later in the season. And at the very least, the young guys are bringing a good attitude and some much-needed excitement to a team that knows all too well the long road ahead.

“Not many people can say they’ve played in an NHL game, so to have the first one at the United Center against the Blues, I don’t think it can get much bigger than that,” Schmaltz said before the game. “I’ll definitely have some nerves coming in, but i’m just going to try not to think about it and take out all the outside noise and just focus on my game and do whatever I can to help the team.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus

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