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, it’s only two games in, but they haven’t yet.
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. And in a game that was expected to be all about one P.K. (Subban, Nashville’s superstar acquisition), it turned out to be all about another PK (the Hawks’ penalty kill). The Hawks gave up three power-play goals for the second consecutive game. They took nine penalties, including a Jonathan Toews fighting major after he went after Nashville’s James Neal. Eight of the nine penalties came from veterans, including two from Artem Anisimov — a hook and a delay of game in the second period. The Hawks had as many penalty minutes (24) as shots on goal.
The Hawks defense and Corey Crawford acquitted themselves well in 5-on-5 play, but the relentless parade to the penalty box did the Hawks no favors, and the offense couldn’t muster much of anything. It didn’t help that Ryan Hartman, who provided a spark in the opener and assisted on Marcus Kruger’s game-opening goal (Kruger’s first goal since the triple-overtime winner against Anaheim in the 2015 playoffs) left the game after just two shifts, appearing to injure his leg during a goalmouth scrum. He didn’t return.
The Predators dominated much of the game, if not the scoreboard. With Brian Campbell in the box for interference, Subban sent the home crowd into a tizzy with a power-play goal. Niklas Hjalmarsson banked one in off the post to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead at 9:51 but after a Toews holding-the-stick penalty, Roman Josi scored to make it 2-2.
The offensive slog continued for the Hawks in the second period, during which they only had six shots (one more than they had in the first). And with Anisimov in the box for flipping the puck over the glass, Mike Fisher tipped a Josi shot past Crawford for a 3-2 Nashville lead. After Subban — who wasted no time in becoming a centerpiece in the burgeoning Hawks-Predators rivalry — dumped Toews and hit him from behind while he was down, the Hawks got a power play (a hooking penalty on Colin Wilson, nothing for Subban). It lasted all of 18 seconds, as Brent Seabrook was whistled for closing his hand on the puck.
Subban — who got into it with Kane and Hossa late in the game, also — took an interference penalty with 1:46 left to give the Hawks one last power play. But even with Crawford pulled for a 6-on-4 advantage, the Hawks couldn’t get the equalizer.