Getting off to a good start in a season series against arguably your biggest rival is always nice in the NHL, but the Chicago Blackhawks left the Gateway to the West with a sour taste in their mouths as the St. Louis Blues picked up a 3-2 victory on Saturday night.
The Hawks won’t have much time to shrug off the loss, as they will face the Ottawa Senators at the United Center on Sunday night, but before they do, here were our Three Stars of Saturday’s game.
Third Star: Brad Richards
Richards has gotten a ton of criticism in the early stages of his career with the Blackhawks, but he had a nice game on Saturday, picking up an assist and three shots on goal in the contest.
Even though he only got a secondary assist on Kris Versteeg’s third period goal, Richards played a primary role on the play. After moving the puck up to Patrick Sharp, Richards flew down the ice and went right up the middle of the offensive zone. The move forced a momentary panic by the Blues’ defenders, and when they both collapsed in on Richards, Sharp was able to feed a pass across to Versteeg to set up the goal.
That aggressive play by Richards is a perfect execution of the mantra that Joel Quenneville constantly preaches to his players: get to the front of the net, and good things will happen. His assertive play was a key on that goal, and it is a heartening sight to see him engaged like that.
Second Star: Kris Versteeg
Speaking of guys who are looking to win over Hawks fans, Versteeg has a lot to prove coming into this season, and he made a big step forward in that regard on Saturday as he scored his first goal of the young campaign.
Bouncing around the lineup with several different combinations, Versteeg seemed to find a good landing spot with Sharp and Richards during the game, scoring his goal and drawing a penalty while paired up with them. The penalty was one of several that the Hawks drew because of their penchant for agitating the Blues, as a shove from Versteeg to Steve Ott drew a slash that caught the attention of the officials.
Whether it’s scoring goals or drawing penalties, Versteeg has got to step up his game for the Blackhawks this season as they try to maintain the depth that has brought them so much success in recent years, and Saturday was a good step in the right direction.
First Star: Patrick Sharp
Sharp has been unquestionably the Blackhawks’ most aggressive offensive player in the early going, and he continued that trend on Saturday night as he picked up a goal and an assist in nearly 20 minutes of ice time.
Sharp’s goal came on a perfectly designed play on a 5-on-3 power play, and it hearkened back to his old role on the team’s man-advantage unit. With Patrick Kane handling the puck in the face-off circle, Sharp snuck behind the defense, and by the time anyone realized he was near the crease, it was too late as he potted a back-door goal to make it a 1-0 hockey game.
Normally, Sharp has been blasting away from the point on the power play this season, but Saturday’s move was a nice little wrinkle to his game. He is a really effective player in that area of the ice, and even though his primary responsibility will remain the point on the power play, he would be well-advised to throw that change-up a little bit more often when the Hawks have the advantage.