Chicago Blackhawks: Reaction to First 3 Games of 2011-12 Season
The Chicago Blackhawks first three games of the 2011-12 season featured plenty of highs and lows. Chicago has collected four points thus far, and I'm very excited for what kind of season the Blackhawks will have.
General manager Stan Bowman acquired a handful of players this summer, but no big name free agent that may have been available. Bowman signed role players who will complement the core group of skaters the 'Hawks already have, as well as fill the holes that were exposed throughout the Blackhawks' 2010-11 defense of the Stanley Cup.
Because of the new players on the Blackhawks' roster, coach Joel Quenneville had to make a significant number of personnel changes to give his team their best chance of collecting two points every night. We're seeing these changes early on in the season, and it's a taste of what product will be on the ice all year.
In addition to Bowman's free-agent acquisitions, he also locked up goalie Corey Crawford for the next three years. Unfortunately, Crawford suffered an injury after just two games, so Coach Q already had to call on backup goalie Ray Emery.
The New Guys
Stan Bowman made several acquisitions this summer, and we're starting to see why each player was brought in to help the organization win a second Stanley Cup in three years.
Dan Carcillo missed the team's first two games because of a suspension handed to him last season, but Carcillo was certainly a big presence in his first game in a 'Hawks sweater. He banged bodies the second he stepped onto the ice, and even ran into teammate Marian Hossa at one point. I guess that's the side of Carcillo the Blackhawks don't want to see, but his performance voided that one mishap.
Carcillo drew a penalty and didn't retaliate. That's a great example of the good Carcillo the 'Hawks want to see. I'm excited to see what Coach Q does with Carcillo's mental game to really take advantage of this signing.
Andrew Brunette looked "ehh" the first game. But, he's made some changes and found a way to bury a couple goals in his first three games. He's doing the dirty work in front of the net that the 'Hawks lacked last season.
Sean O'Donnell was brought in to basically mentor young defenseman Nick Leddy, and whatever the two did in the offseason seems to be working. Leddy has tallied two points in the first three games and has been putting the puck on net enough times, but not too many times.
Coach Q has switched a few things up with his lines, and he's had to find a way to effectively use the team's new free-agent acquisitions.
The first thing that caught many people's eyes was that Patrick Kane moved to center. Kane looks like he put on quite a bit of muscle in the offseason, and he could successfully fill this role for however long Q wants him to.
Kane has looked fast in the open thus far, and I'm excited to see him be the 100-point player he has the potential to be.
It seems like Dan Carcillo, Andrew Brunette and Jamal Mayers have found their roles for the 'Hawks. Carcillo, in his first game as a Blackhawk, was on Kane and Hossa's line. Carcillo provides that line with the toughness that will complement Kane's speed, finesse and playmaking ability, as well as Hossa's strength and skill, to make this line as balanced as it gets.
Brunette has been assigned to skate with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. Brunette will most likely do the majority of this line's dirty work in front of net in the offensive zone. Expect Brunette to park his 6'1" frame in front of the opposing goalies and tally up the rebounds. He's done it thus far, and he's been rewarded accordingly.
Mayers has centered the fourth line. He hasn't done anything noteworthy just yet, but the benefits that will come from having Mayers willing to sacrifice his big body are bound to happen throughout the season.
Coach Q decided to spread the wealth on defense and split up his Olympic gold medal blueliners, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Keith has been skating with Nick Leddy, and the two have combined for 12 shots on goal and a plus-two rating. Seabrook is now paired with Niklas Hjalmarsson, and the two have held their own, as well.
It's unfortunate the Blackhawks have already had to call on backup goalie Ray Emery because of a minor injury Corey Crawford suffered just two games into the season.
Emery may have escaped against with a win against the Winnipeg Jets, but he didn't do it in style. His save percentage was 90 percent, but he looked uncomfortable in the crease. Unless, of course, that's his style of play, and I still have to get used to it.
It's a good thing Crawford is expected to return for the Blackhawks' next game, when the 'Hawks host the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
Crawford looked very good in his first two games. If it weren't for Crawford's performance in the season opener against Dallas, the 'Hawks would've had a much more embarrassing loss.
I'm anxious to see what kind of season he has after signing his new three-year deal this summer. Maybe he'll be a Vezina Trophy winner? I like the sound of that.