Much has been made of the early-season struggles of the Chicago Blackhawks, but Saturday night may have been a step in the right direction for this squad. For the first time seemingly all year, their biggest stars came to play, leading the way in a thrilling win against some old friends.
It was evident going in to the Blackhawks' contest against the Thrashers that it would be a fast, physical game. With former mates like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd on the other side, life was going to be very difficult for the Chicago forwards.
While that may have been true for the rest of the team, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane finally came to play, after a few weeks of almost complete absence from the stat sheet. The Hawks' young stars combined for seven points, each netting a pair of goals to go with two assists from Toews, and another from Kane.
There's little doubt that this spark may have been provided by head coach Joel Quenneville's frustration at the morning skate on Saturday. After not getting much production out of his top skaters, and some sluggish play on Saturday morning, Coach Q yanked his team from the ice, something that surely provided a wake-up call.
Kane and Toews may have gotten the hint, and it showed on Saturday. Kane, who had just two goals in his previous 10 games, scored those two and even flashed some brawn, getting physical at times, though it's not something we should get used to seeing. Toews was as fast as he's appeared all year, scoring one of his two goals on a break away, slipping it five hole past Atlanta keeper Ondrej Pavelec.
Yet, the captain had more work to do, presenting us with possibly the best play of the night, faking Pavelec out of his skates in the shootout, giving the Hawks the early edge.
Another good sign for the Hawks is the emergence of Viktor Stalberg. While he hasn't completely broken out as expected, he's shown flashes of being a player that can replace those departed role players, with four points in his last two games, including an assist on Saturday. He also gained a few more fans when he potted the game-winner in the shootout.
It may just have been the Kane and Toews Show on Saturday, but they are what this team is built around. With those two struggling as they had, Saturday could not have come at a better time. If the win against Atlanta is any indication, Chicago's two stars are ready to heat up, just in time for Marian Hossa to return on Sunday.
We will know very soon if Saturday was something we should get used to, or if the Hawks were just feeding off emotion, but with the Hawks facing an Edmonton team that embarrassed them just over a week ago, you can expect to see more of what you saw on Saturday. And just as it did all year last year, it started with coaching.