Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks offense looks good until Huet comes to a bad ending in 4-3 loss

Patrick Kane traveled more than 4,000 miles from Chicago to find himself in the right place at the right time Friday in the season opener in Finland.

That was a welcome change of pace for him after the 20-year-old Blackhawks winger was forced to explain this summer how he came to be in the wrong place at the wrong time night-clubbing and cabbie-clubbing in Buffalo when he was playing on the dawn patrol.

But goalie Cristobal Huet lost a one-goal lead in regulation with 2:21 remaining and allowed two goals in the shootout, including the second goal of the game for Finnish defenseman Ville Koistinen to the delight of the home folks, and Florida beat Chicago 4-3 after surviving a strong Blackhawks' offensive charge.

David Booth tied the score 3-3 in the waning minutes of regulation when defenseman Brent Seabrook failed to clear his own zone and Booth skated in free. Wouldn't you know it. Booth was born in Detroit. Bad omen right there to have Detroit involved in any way in what was a crushing setback mentally.

The Hawks dominated the final period and still couldn't put the Panthers away. Huet doesn't get all the blame. But unless he can make a bigger difference in the clutch, the Hawks won't be as good as advertised. Perhaps backup Andy Niemi can replace him and star, but so far Niemi is an unknown.

Jonathan Toews scored the first goal of the shootout, but Kane and Patrick Sharp--both of whom scored in regulation--were stoned by a sensational overall performance by goalie Tomas Vokoun. Before Koistinen scored, Huet also gave up a shootout goal to Steven Reinprecht that just negated what Toews had done.

Huet was OK. But OK won't cut it. The Hawks had more offensive chances than Florida after a slow start, ending with 50 shots in regulation, but the combination of Vokoun rising to the occasion and Huet just sort of hanging in there until crunch time combined to create the upset.

But let the NHL be warned. Kane has a new guy riding shotgun for him, and it's not his cousin. Dustin Byfuglien and Kane were exciting new linemates in the debut effort. Byfuglien cleaned up for Kane after Kane's third-period shot rebounded off the crossbar before hitting off Byfuglien's chest. Byfuglien banged it home for a 2-1 lead.

Centered by Dave Bolland, this line pairing Kane and Byfuglien certainly appears to be a early brainstorm for coach Joel Quenneville.

Kris Versteeg showed that he won't be a one-year wonder, working hard in front of the net in the closing stages to set up a rebound chance that Sharp buried for a goal and a 3-2 lead. Some have wondered if Versteeg will struggle as a sophomore after being one of the top NHL rookies last year.

He answered that with a resounding "no" in this game. But, as usual, Kane stoled the show on offense.

Kane's second-period goal on a breakaway jump-started his team's year. The Hawks survived the first period, in which Florida controlled the tempo, only on the strength of goalie Cristobal Huet being sharper than his teammates to start the campaign, which may be a positive early sign for the long haul in living up to Stanley Cup anticipations.

Huet's play and Panther Gregory Bolland's inability to take advantage of a chance to score into an open net were all that kept Florida from taking the lead in the first period. That permitted Kane to break the ice after he was penalized for high-sticking, allowed by those quite unobservant Panthers to step out of the penalty box undefended. Bad mistake.

Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson found Kane sneaking free with a pass and the kid put his patented right-to-left move on Vokoun in which Kane consistently scores on the backhander. He keeps making the same move, but it keeps on working. So why change a thing?

Well, maybe Kane needed to throw Vokoun a changeup in the shootout when he was turned aside.

Kane almost added a second goal in the second period with passing help from Duncan Keith. But Vokoun tracked the play well enough to stop Kane.

Huet, on the other hand, was unable to stop Koistinen from getting loud applause when he scored in the third period to tie 2-2. Huet never appeared to see that attempt.

Michael Frolik scored the first goal against Huet in the second period. Defenseman Brian Campbell seemed to get beaten as Frolik hit the right post with the puck and had it go in the net.

Perhaps we should thank Panthers defenseman Keith Ballard for awakening Kane. He hammered him with two clean hits in the first period.

Kane was complaining to officials after the second one. But maybe Kane is at his best when he gets roughed up a little and responds.

As long as he learns not to do it it at 5 a. m., that bodes well for his career. Not being intimidated was an encouraging performance by the kid.

Seabrook and Keith had some good moments, but overall they didn't have the impact on this game that perhaps was needed.

You can't be totally disappointed at what was occasionally exceptional play from the Hawks. However, if the Hawks come home 0-2 after another shot at Florida in Finland, the concern will start to flare up.

Compared with Chicago losing the Olympics, this was a hiccup. But the Hawks better be sobered by the experience and immediately tie up some loose ends.

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7 Comments

FearlessFreep said:

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Man I was following this game on a real-time log...really disappointed that Huet couldn't come up with one big save to win this game - 3 goals allowed on 24 shots ain't gonna cut it. Hawks put up 50 shots and couldn't score more than 3? Well either Vokoun had a great game or the Hawks just couldn't put this one away. At least they get a point out of it but sheesh, this is one point they let get away.

Mike Kiley said:

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For now I would accentuate the positives. There were enough. But Huet remains the worm floating in the beautiful vodka martini. I probably would still drink it, though, Huet and all, and hope for better results on the second round.

Dave Morris said:

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Hey Mike, I almost agree with you. And that's a scary thing.

You forgot to mention how Cristo was very crispy early in the game when the Hawks where doing their Chicken Little impressions in the defensive zone.

And let's face it, this game wouldn't even have gone to OT if Bashful Brent hadn't done a Seabiscuit with that blueline turnover.

I'd say the Blackhawks are more like a milk shake right now than a vodka martini.

Some good ingredients, but still needs time in the blender before it's ready to serve.

And hey, ya gotta be happy about that Buff Stuff.

Bottom line One Point, and they all count.

Let's see what tomorrow brings, and make my vodka martini very dry...AND a double.

Cheers.

Mike Kiley said:

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Dave, I think you need that Canadian national health care system to go out and buy you glasses and you will see in the story where I said Huet was better than his teammates in the first period. And quit agreeing with me. It'll kill my sterling reputation.

Dave Morris said:

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Darn it Mike, you're right...again.

I missed your praise of The Count of Monte Cristo, being dazzled as I was by your swashbuckling prose.

That's why you're a pro and I'm an amateur.

Following your advice, I've ordered my prescription specs, and I'm getting the kind with those lenses that change into sunglasses, eh. In case my mood gets too bright.

Can I buy you a drink?

JackTheSquid said:

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Versteeg and Kane look like they are still trying to finesse the puck into the offensive zone rather than put it deep and chase to set something up. That was a problem last year, and still was today.
I thought Sopel was OK, but he didn't really show anything. I missed Hendry...was he a scratch or did he play late??

Mark Kiley said:

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Hendry was a healthy scratch. The sixth defenseman spot will bounce back and forth between Hendry and Sopel each game. Barring any injuries, we should never seem them both dressed for the same game.

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