The Chicago Blackhawks held their annual Training Camp Festival on Monday evening at the United Center, and the team engaged in a spirited scrimmage before a sold out crowd in their first action in the Windy City since winning the Stanley Cup in June.
The score of the exhibition may have been a 5-2 victory for the white team led by Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, but more importantly, there were several interesting moments in the game that could provide some clues as to where the Hawks will be headed when the regular season begins in just two short weeks.
Patrick Kane Might Just Be Poised for a Career Year
When camp opened at Notre Dame last week, reporters raved about the physical condition that most of the team was in (even head coach Joel Quenneville said that it was the most fit team he had ever seen), but one of the players who got the most attention was winger Patrick Kane, who will be entering his seventh season when the 2013-14 campaign kicks off in October.
Kane scored very high on all of his conditioning tests at camp, and through the early stages of preparation for the upcoming season, he has already looked to be in top form. That type of play continued on Monday night, as he had several excellent shifts along with winger Bryan Bickell, who will likely be on the top line with Kane and Jonathan Toews when the season begins, and the line was centered by Teuvo Teravainen, one of the team's top prospects. Kane scored a spectacular goal for the white team in the first period, as he caught a pass in the high slot and proceeded to deke Jimmy Hayes out of his skates.
He then fired a short side shot past Hawks back-up goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who looked as mesmerized as anyone else on the ice when Kane caught the puck.
Add to that the several quality passes Kane fired off during the game, including a pass from the boards that found a streaking Bickell in front of the net, and one can see that Kane is a player who may finally be in full control of all the gifts the hockey gods have bestowed upon him, and that could be bad news for the rest of the NHL.
The Hawks' Third Line Could Be Set Already
During the first few practices of training camp, Quenneville has been doing some tinkering with his lines. He has had Brandon Saad centering the team's second line with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, but in perhaps just as interesting a combination, he has had Andrew Shaw centering the team's third line with Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith skating on the wings.
Obviously, this line was going to be one that underwent some changes this season, with Saad competing for a spot among the team's top six forwards and with Viktor Stalberg patrolling more yellow pastures in Nashville, but this combination has certainly turned some heads, and did so again on Monday night.
During the game, the line had several instances in which they were able to sustain lengthy possessions, including a couple against the Hawks' top defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. These sequences culminated in a careless turnover in front of the white team net, as the puck found its way to a wide open Morin, who snapped a one-time shot past Brandon Whitney to bring the red team back to within a 4-2 margin.
One of the biggest complaints about the team's third line last season was that they weren't able to convert many scoring chances despite their ability to hold onto the puck, but with both Morin and Smith looking to secure spots on the roster, the combined hunger of the line could equal some pretty impressive scoring numbers if the current configuration is maintained.
Other Players Who Stood Out:
-Drew LeBlanc, who joined the team as a free agent following a Hobey Baker Award winning season in college, looked impressive on the ice Monday. His strength and ability to hold onto the puck under durress is similar to the ability that Marian Hossa displays, and his ability to absorb checks and stay on his feet is a sight for sore eyes for a team that is sometimes accused of lacking toughness.
-One player who had a couple of remarkably crisp shots was tough guy Brandon Bollig. Bollig ended up scoring the go-ahead goal for the white team in the first period when Swedish prospect Joakim Nordstrom found him in the slot with a nifty behind the back pass, and Bollig fired a one timer past Khabibulin.
-With Hossa out of the lineup in Monday's scrimmage, the right wing spot on the red team's first line went to Hayes. He did not disappoint in that role, crashing the net effectively on a rush and popping a one-timer past Corey Crawford to give his team a 1-0 lead. He also had several other quality shifts with Sharp and Saad, and even though he ended up being shuffled around as the red team tried to spark their offense, it was clear that he was comfortable in a top six role.