Notebook: Special teams shine in opener

January, 19, 2013
1/19/13
8:31
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville knows as well as anyone how fast the 2013 NHL season is going to move.

But when Quenneville was asked about the Blackhawks’ upcoming game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday, less than half an hour after defeating the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 on Saturday, he wanted to momentarily throw the brakes on the quickened season.

[+] EnlargePatrick Kane, Rob Scuderi
Noah Graham/NHLI/Getty ImagesPatrick Kane got the Blackhawks started off on the right foot with a one-timer at 3:41 of the first period.
“Let’s be happy with the way we played,” Quenneville said. “Knowing if we want to be successful, there’s a lot of things today that were positive.”

In other words, Quenneville wanted to savor his team’s play. He had been questioned countless times throughout the week about improving his special teams from last season, but the unit's play Saturday put a smile on his face.

The Blackhawks scored their first goal of the season off the power play when Patrick Kane knocked in a one-timer at 3:41 of the first period. They went 1-for-5 on the power play in the win.

Last season, the Blackhawks ranked 26th with a 15.2 power-play percentage, scoring 42 goals in 277 opportunities.

“Very effective and efficient scoring on that first power play 5-on-3,” Quenneville said. “Really boosted our team right off the bat. Nice shot by Kaner. I thought all areas of our game were pretty solid. Special teams were definitely better than what we saw last year.”

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill was certainly at a different level Saturday. Last season, the Blackhawks ranked 27th with a 78.1 penalty-kill percentage. They allowed 51 goals on 233 chances.

On Saturday, the Blackhawks were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.

“It’s huge for us,” Jonathan Toews said of the special teams. “We know that’s going to win or lose some games for us. We got to really focus on that and not just expect that our players are going to go out there and do the job. We got to be the hardest workers out there, whether we’re killing or whether we’re on the power play. We worked tonight, so it made a difference for us.”

Toews perseveres: One day after missing practice due to the flu, Toews led the team’s forwards in ice time Saturday with 18 minutes, 47 seconds. He also had a goal and an assist.

“I felt better, but I think most of all you’re excited to go back out there and play hockey,” Toews said. “That excitement took over, gave me a little extra jump.”

It was different feeling than what Toews experienced two days before.

“It’s wasn’t a fun thing,” said Toews, who said he had received a flu vaccination shot this winter. “You wait so long to play your first game of the year and two nights before you’re up all night not feeling too hot.”

Crawford off to a good start: It didn’t take Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford too long to get comfortable again in net.

Crawford stopped the first eight shots directed at him in the first period Saturday and finished with 19 saves on 21 shots.

“I felt good,” Crawford said. “I was so eager to get that first shot. Just to get the feeling back a little bit. I was able to handle a couple pucks behind the net, and that kind of got back into it. I felt like I was glued to the puck all game.”
Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
6 2 4 0
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Kane 3
AssistsP. Sharp 4
+/-J. Oduya 5
GAAC. Crawford 1.66