The big day is finally here, as the Chicago Blackhawks will battle the Washington Capitals in the regular season opener. In practice on Tuesday morning, the Hawks kept their lines completely intact from previous practices. Scott Powers has the breakdown:
Lines today are Bickell-Toews-Kane, Sharp-Handzus-Hossa, Saad-Shaw-Hayes, Bollig-Kruger-Nordstrom.
— Scott Powers (@ESPNChiPowers) October 1, 2013
This likely means that Joakim Nordstrom will make his NHL debut for the Hawks on this emotionally charged night, and Ben Smith will be the lone forward scratched from the starting lineup. The defensive pairings will also be the same, with Sheldon Brookbank and Mike Kostka sitting out the team's first game.
Key to the Game: Keep Emotions in Check
Seeing a championship banner raised to the rafters is always an emotional event for fans and players alike, and Tuesday's ceremony will be no exception. Last time the Hawks raised a banner in 2010, they played the Detroit Red Wings, and they came out of the gate a little too jazzed up for their own good, and their play suffered because of it.
The same fate was seen by the Los Angeles Kings last season when they raised their banner and received their championship rings before their season opener with the Hawks, and the Kings were shell-shocked by the early Chicago barrage.
If the Hawks are going to get a season-opening victory tonight, they are going to have to be careful and not let their emotions get the better of them. It's a lot easier said than done, but especially with some younger guys like Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad playing in their first game as defending champs, it's going to be critical for veterans like Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa to help keep things on an even keel once the puck actually drops.
Blackhawk to Watch: Michal Handzus
After missing the preseason while rehabbing an injury, Handzus will be centering the Hawks' second line against the Capitals Tuesday. He did a great job in last season's playoffs with Hossa and Patrick Sharp on that line, and Joel Quenneville surely is hoping that they will recapture that chemistry as the new campaign gets underway.
Handzus isn't the most fleet of foot player on the ice even when he's fully healthy, but his conditioning will definitely be something worth watching. If he is unable to play at a high level for prolonged stretches, Quenneville might not hesitate to do a bit of line-juggling as the game progresses.
Capital to Watch: Alex Ovechkin
It seems like a blatantly obvious choice to say that the opposing player Hawks fans should watch is the Capitals' best player, but in Ovechkin's current situation, it's definitely true.
That's because Ovechkin has spent the last few days flying back to Europe to head to Greece to be the first person to carry the Olympic torch as it begins its journey to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. It's obviously a huge honor to be chosen for that role, and with Ovechkin being arguably Russia's most famous athlete (Maria Sharapova is up there too), it wasn't one that he realistically could have turned down.
That being said, it will be interesting to see if there are any ill-effects from the long roundtrip on Ovechkin's play tonight, as he will see top line minutes along with Marcus Johannsen and Nicklas Backstrom.