Charlie Roumeliotis

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 6-1 win over Red Wings in preseason home opener

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 6-1 win over Red Wings in preseason home opener

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Thursday's preseason home opener:

1. DeBrincat-Schmaltz-Kane unit was electric.

Yeah, this line could work. We realize the Red Wings sent over many of their fringe players, but Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane are all on the same wavelength offensively and it was evident in their first preseason game together.

The trio combined for four points (one goal and three assists), and created several quality scoring chances at even strength throughout the game. Kane was Kane, Schmaltz was one of the best players on the ice and DeBrincat cashed in for his first career (preseason) goal in the NHL.

This is certainly something to keep an eye on as roster cuts get underway and final decisions on the Opening Day lineup approach. Will DeBrincat be a part of the big club? It was considered a long shot before training camp started, but it's hard to ignore the chemistry he's developing on that second line.

2. Brandon Saad picks up where he left off in Blackhawks uniform.

It's like he never left. In his first game back in a Chicago sweater, Saad netted a hat trick — albeit, it's preseason so it won't count in the books — and he could have had a fourth, and maybe even a fifth, if you want to look further into the chances he had. All three goals that he did score though he found himself parked in front of the net, which is a great sign for the Blackhawks because it's something they lacked last year.

"The puck seemed to be finding me," Saad said after the win. "Regardless of what kind of game it is, you want to get your confidence rolling. It’s good to be back out here. It's always nice to be wanted and welcomed, and these fans are the best fans in the league, so it’s good to be back."

Saad finished the game with a game-high eight shots on goal and a plus-3 rating, and he did it without Jonathan Toews, who did not play due to an illness.

3. Connor Murphy developing chemistry with Duncan Keith.

The Blackhawks' new top pairing featuring two-time Norris Trophy winner Keith and 24-year-old Murphy was solid in their first game together.

Murphy wasn't afraid to be aggressive and take chances by pinching in, joining the rush, and quarterbacking the power play with confidence. He also didn't make any glaring defensive mistakes, which is a plus in Quenneville's book.

"I thought everybody played well on our back end," Quenneville said. "Then we went down to five, I thought they looked very good."

(Luc Snuggerud suffered an upper-body injury in the second period, and did not return. Quenneville said they will know more about his status on Friday).

4. Jordan Oesterle catches Joel Quenneville's attention.

Of those six defensemen noted above, the one that really stood out to the Blackhawks coach was Oesterle. The 25-year-old blue liner signed a two-year contract with Chicago over the offseason, and is fighting for a spot on the bottom pairing.

He made a strong early case by registering two assists and leading the team with three blocked shots in 21:49 of ice time, playing on both the power play and penalty kill units.

"I liked him. A lot," Quenneville said. "I liked his thought process, jumping up in the play, positionally very strong, quick and headsy. He did a really good job. He's got some flexibility and the ability to play both sides is a great asset to have."

5. What to make of abundance of penalties...

We mentioned the NHL's desire to crack down on slashing penalties and faceoff violations in our five takeaways after Tuesday's preseason opener, and it remained the same Thursday. There were another 13 penalties called, three of which were slashing, and handful of centers getting tossed from the dot.

So what should we make of it all?

Well, it's hard to imagine the amount of penalties will stay the same once the actual regular season starts. It seems like a tactic to lay down the hammer extra hard in an effort to get players to adapt to the new enforced rules as quickly as possible. It will be interesting to follow how things may change over the course of the season, with referees having the tendency to swallow their whistles as the important games roll around, especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

How a Jonathan Toews injury could have kept Blackhawks from winning 2010 Stanley Cup

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AP

How a Jonathan Toews injury could have kept Blackhawks from winning 2010 Stanley Cup

The Blackhawks made history in 2010 when they snapped a 49-year championship drought by breaking through to beat the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. But their fate could have changed dramatically if it got to a Game 7 for a reason that practically nobody was aware of until now.

The Athletic’s NHL Insider Craig Custance sat down over the summer with some of hockey’s greatest coaches to dissect games of their crowning achievements for his book titled, “Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey's Greatest Coaches,” which was released in September. One of those coaches included was Joel Quenneville, who won his first career Stanley Cup as a head coach with the Blackhawks in 2010.

So the two went back and rewatched Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in Philadelphia — the series-clinching game — to get a glimpse inside Quenneville's mind during that game.

Well, inside the book, there was a pretty big revelation regarding their star player. Jonathan Toews had apparently suffered a knee injury late in the game that was serious enough to put his status for a potential Game 7 in doubt.

Here are a few snippets:

"Jonny gets hurt in this game with less than 10 minutes to go in regulation," Quenneville says. "He can't really go. Thank God we scored early [in overtime]. I think it would have been impossible for Jonny to play Game 7."

Wait. What?

This was all news to me.

Same to everyone else.

It happened in the waning minutes of the third period on the play the Flyers evened up the score at 3-3. Toews was shoved into the goaltender after the goal was scored and stayed down on the ice grabbing his knee, then labored back to the bench hunched over.

His teammates didn't know how serious Toews' injury was at the time either:

"It wasn't until midsummer. I remember talking to him, he was still having problems with this knee," Sharp said. "That's when I was like, 'Holy shit, we wouldn't have had Tazer in Game 7.' That just shows you the margin of winning and losing is so small."

In this moment, Hossa has no idea how banged up Toews is. He taps the puck back to Toews as they enter the offensive zone. Flyers forward Darroll Powe bumps him off the puck and the threat is wiped out. The Flyers are headed the other way.

"Yeah, he can't go. Left leg, can't really go," Quenneville says.

It went completely unnoticed, but it could have been a psychological turning point in the series if the Flyers recognized that the Blackhawks' captain was banged up:

Just imagine the lift the Flyers would get if they realized that not only had they tied the game and possibly forced a Game 7, but the Blackhawks' most important player was injured. Quenneville realized this. He was hoping to play Toews just enough to throw the Flyers off the scent.

"He gets that shift, so everybody knows he's fine. Okay, this is Carter. Watch this chance he gets."

Claude Giroux finds a wide-open Jeff Carter, who spins and fires a puck that Niemi somehow saves.

I'm stunned at how close the Blackhawks came to losing this game.

"What a chance he had," Quenneville says.

"That would have made it 4-3 and you're going back without Toews in Game 7."

"Every one, we got lucky."

What a turn of events that would have been, huh?

Knowing the competitor in Toews, he probably would have found a way to play in a possible Game 7, but it certainly makes Chicago appreciate Patrick Kane's game-winning goal in overtime even more knowing its captain may not have been able to play or, at the very least, wouldn't have been close to full strength.

The book goes into full detail of how Quenneville monitored Toews' injury throughout the end of that third period and in overtime, the communication he had with Toews and trainers, and even offers his thoughts on his shifts after the injury like he's coaching in real time again, among many other things.

It's a must-read, and a great in-depth look at how the complexion of the series could have changed on a play nobody saw.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 win over Blue Jackets in preseason opener

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 win over Blue Jackets in preseason opener

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Tuesday's preseason opener:

1. Anton Forsberg sharp in debut.

The former Blue Jackets netminder who was acquired by the Blackhawks in the Artemi Panarin-Brandon Saad offseason deal shined in his first game action with his new club, stopping 38 of 40 shots he faced. Many of them were quality saves, too.

He was a perfect 14-for-14 in the first period, with eight of those coming while Columbus was on the power play, which also included a 5-on-3 stretch. He stood tall and looked comfortable in net, and it's an encouraging sign for the Blackhawks who are hoping he can become a reliable backup goaltender to ease the load off Corey Crawford.

2. Cody Franson, Jan Rutta stand out on defense.

The Blackhawks brought in Franson on a professional tryout agreement, and he didn't waste any time making his presence felt. The 30-year-old defenseman recorded four of the team's nine shots in the opening frame, all of which came on the power play, and the fourth one found the back of the net to open up the scoring. He served as a solid quarterback on the man advantage, and wasn't afraid to utilize his heavy shot.

Rutta was no different. He led all skaters with 23:52 of ice time, and was rewarded with a goal in the second period after his slapshot from the point bounced off the boards, ricocheted off the back of Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo's skate and trickled into the net. The 27-year-old Czech defenseman also registered two blocked shots and had two of the club's seven takeaways.

3. Nick Schmaltz's confidence and game continues to grow.

There is a noticeable difference in Schmaltz's confidence and game this year compared to last year. He looks bigger, faster and more confident with the puck, and his strong showing at training camp translated into the first preseason game.

Serving as the first-line center, Schmaltz led all Chicago forwards with 18:03 of ice time and spent time on both the power play and penalty kill units. He showed off his wicked wrist shot with a goal in the second period to make it 4-0, and displayed his playmaking ability by recording a primary assist on Franson's goal. He was one of four Blackhawks who had multi-point efforts in the win (Franson, Tomas Jurco and Graham Knott).

4. Blackhawks finish strong in faceoff department after rough start.

The Blackhawks ranked second-to-last in faceoff win percentage last year at 47.5, and they appeared to be headed down that path again. They opened the game 0-for-8 at the dot, but ended up finishing strong by winning 37 of the next 60 draws for a win percentage of 61.7. Matthew Highmore, Vinnie Hinostroza, Graham Knott and John Mitchell led the way by combining to go 19 of 25 (76 percent) at the circle.

5. NHL cracking down on several rules.

The league has made it clear about its intentions of laying down the law regarding a few rules and it was evident Tuesday that they won't be messing around. Seventeen penalties were called in the game, including five slashing and two faceoff violations.

Those are the two areas that will be focused on closely, the former in an effort to protect the NHL's stars and the latter to ensure a fair chance for both centers. Prepare for more whistles and power plays early on.