On September 20th, The Blackhawks played their first exhibition game of the preseason, losing 4-2 to the Edmonton Oilers. While many of the veterans did not make the trip to Saskatoon, the game did give Hawk fans a chance to get accustomed to new faces and observe the battle for the remaining roster spots.
As with any sport, the first exhibition game will have its share of inconsistent and sloppy play; and this game was no different. There were phases however where the Hawks dominated play, especially early on. But over the course of the game, it was the poor defensive play by the Blackhawks that gave Edmonton the edge in the 2nd and 3rd periods.
- Let's start with the Toewseses (tough plural). Nothing special from the brothers, but they (especially the Captain) gave a solid 2-way performance.
- The line of Ben Smith, Kruger, and Brandon Saad really impressed me tonight. They were fast and connecting with a lot of their passes.
- My wild card for the entire year; Rostislav Olesz played arguably the best of any Hawk. He looked outstanding behind the net, using his vision to set up his teammates and his size to win battles. He was handed the puck in front of the EDM goalie and buried the first goal.
- Some other young guys, further away from the Big League team, had some solid moments as well. 1st rounder Mark McNeill played a physical game and found Jamal Mayers with a nice set up to grab an assist. Kyle Beach and Jimmy Hayes also used their big bodies to their advantage, along the boards and in front of the net.
- Newcomer Steve Montador had his ups and downs in his first game wearing the Blackhawk sweater. He looked very confident with the puck, making quick decisions and sharp passes. But on D, he looked a little slow, as he was skated around on two of EDM's goals.
- Fellow addtion to the blue line, Sami Lepisto did not have the same confidence as Montador. He missed a few opportunities to advance the puck and played on his heels early. As the game progressed however, Lepisto appeared to become more comfortable.
- Nick Leddy and John Scott seemed to start right where they left off last season. Leddy, who appears to be in line for more ice time this year, was inconsistent throughout the night. He, too, made some poor decisions and had some early turnovers. He also made some smart plays and looked better with the puck. John Scott, on the other hand, was a defensive liability throughout the night. When he wasn't getting beat by an Edmonton skater, he was clearing pucks by rolling them through the crease. We know what we are getting by this point with Big #32.
- Ray Emery got the start and played the first half of the game. While he was not tested early (except for a nice butterfly save on a great EDM scoring chance), Emery held off an Oiler attack to keep the game scoreless. He had another great point blank save early in the 2nd. He then gave up a soft rebound and allowed Ryan Smyth to poke it in for a goal. He was also beat over the stick by a nice wrister
- Alex Salak took over midway through the 2nd period and was hardly tested in the net. He made the plays he should have and gave up a tough goal on a defensive lapse. Overall it was hard to compare the performances but I think Emery gets the nod for stepping up to the challenge.
Overall, it was what you would expect in the first game. As the preseason progresses look for the legs to come back to many of the skaters and the speed to pick up. If there is anything to take from tonight's game, it is confidence in organization's depth. We know the top tier of players on the team will produce, it is the smaller roles that need to be filled if the team wants to return to the Finals. Tonight, a lot of the young players stepped up and showed they might be able to fill those spots.