Saad, Blackhawks pound Penguins 10-1 in opener
By JAY COHEN, AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Brandon Saad was a force on both ends of the ice. Patrick Kane made a couple of dazzling passes. Nick Schmaltz showed off his speed, and Ryan Hartman was everywhere.
It was quite a show, especially for opening night.
Saad scored three times in his return to Chicago and Hartman had a goal and four assists, helping the Blackhawks pound the Pittsburgh Penguins 10-1 on Thursday night.
Schmaltz added two goals and an assist as Chicago kicked off its season in style with a runaway victory against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Kane had a goal and three assists in the Blackhawks’ highest scoring game since a 10-1 win against Winnipeg on Oct. 12, 1988.
“It was almost like it wasn’t a real game or something,” Kane said. “It was a fun start to be a part of.”
Pittsburgh was coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis in its season opener on Wednesday, and it looked every bit like a team on the second half of back-to-back nights. Antti Niemi was pulled after allowing four goals on 13 shots in his Penguins debut, forcing Matt Murray to come in after he took the loss against the Blues.
Sidney Crosby found Phil Kessel for a power-play goal at 2:05 of the second period, but Chicago already had a 5-0 lead at that point. It was the most goals allowed by Pittsburgh since a 10-8 loss to San Jose on Jan. 13, 1996.
“It’s early, but it’s disturbing,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “When you lose a game like that it’s disturbing, I don’t care when it is in the season. And so, we’ve got to do some soul-searching and right now, we are simply not playing the game the right way.”
The Blackhawks won the Central Division last season and finished with the most points in the Western Conference. But they were swept by Nashville in their second consecutive first-round loss, leading to a flurry of moves by admittedly angry general manager Stan Bowman.
Chicago, which won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, scored three goals in 13 periods in the series against Nashville. It got four in the first 9:16 against Pittsburgh.
“As a team, that’s how we want to play, with that speed, the quick transition, getting pucks down low, past their D,” Saad said. “We have a message on our style of play, and I think we did a great job tonight.”
Hartman scored off a slick pass from Kane at 6:21. After Saad got his first off a rush with Richard Panik, Kane made another great pass to set up Schmaltz’s backhander at 7:34. Saad then beat Niemi with a well-placed shot through a crowd in front, and the rout was on.
“We made mistakes and they buried them,” Crosby said. “It wasn’t, you know, just you make those mistakes and you get away with it. They capitalized on every one.”
The 24-year-old Saad began his career with Chicago and helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups before he was traded to Columbus after the 2015 season. Bowman got him back in a blockbuster trade with the Blue Jackets in June, parting with dynamic winger Artemi Panarin in a multiplayer deal.
For one night at least, it looked like a smart move. Saad, a Pittsburgh native, finished off his hat trick at 5:21 of the third, and Brent Seabrook made it 10-1 with a rebound goal with 6:15 remaining.
“It was obviously a great beginning,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
Hartman set a career high for points and assists in Chicago’s highest-scoring opener, topping an 8-6 victory at Nashville on Oct. 5, 2006. Patrick Sharp also scored in his return to Chicago after signing a team-friendly, one-year deal with the Blackhawks in the offseason. Corey Crawford made 28 saves and Panik added a goal and an assist.
NOTES: Schmaltz gingerly skated off the ice in the third and was helped to the locker room, but Quenneville said he was fine. … Sharp’s first-period goal was his 600th career point. … Blackhawks F Marian Hossa was greeted with a huge roar when he was introduced with the team before the game. Hossa has been ruled out for the season due to a progressive skin disorder, and it’s unclear if he will be able to play again. … Former Blackhawks F Bryan Bickell received a standing ovation when he took one more skate with the team during the pregame festivities. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last November and signed a one-day contract Wednesday to retire with the Blackhawks.
Penguins: Host Nashville on Saturday night.
Blackhawks: Host Columbus on Saturday night.
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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap