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Hawks defense dandy in debut
Blackhawks coach Brian Sutter doesn't want to hear anything about facing a weakened Minnesota Wild team that was without its top two scorers from last season.
"I'm not going to feel sorry for them," Sutter said.
The season begins whether players are unsigned or injured, so the Hawks will gladly take the two points after their 1-0 victory Wednesday night before an announced crowd of 13,903 at the United Center.
The lone goal came at 3 minutes 53 seconds of the second period, when Tyler Arnason took a pass from Ville Nieminen and beat Duane Roloson high over the right shoulder.
Nieminen and Mark Bell pinned Brad Bombardir against the boards at the Minnesota blue line and forced a turnover. Nieminen cut to the net and sent a soft feed to Arnason.
While there were bright spotsnamely, the play of rookies Travis Moen and Lasse Kukkokenthe Hawks also were outshot 33-23 and gave up seven power plays to a team missing Marian Gaborik and Pascal Dupuis from last season's Western Conference finalist squad. The Hawks killed all seven Wild power plays, including two in the third period.
"We had to earn it," Sutter said.
The Hawks want to free captain Alex Zhamnov from penalty-killing duty in the hope that he'll be fresher in five-on-five situations and on the Hawks' power play.
"It was a little hard just sitting there watching," Zhamnov said of his new role. "We have to be a little more disciplined."
Zhamnov was thinking ahead to Friday night in Denver, where the Colorado Avalanche has just a bit more firepower than the Wild.
The additions of Scott Nichol and Nieminen were part of the new penalty-killing plan, and both played big roles Wednesday. So did Moen, Bell, Eric Daze, Steve Sullivan, Tuomo Ruutu and Jason Strudwick among the forwards and Jon Klemm, Alexander Karpovtsev, Steve Poapst and Kukkoken on defense.
Backing them up with the shutout was Jocelyn Thibault, who made some sparkling stops in a 14-save second period. The shutout was the 36th of Thibault's career.
"I was able to see every shot from the blue line," Thibault said.
Though the Hawks gave up power plays, they had only three for the night, and the first lasted just eight seconds. On the third, the Hawks gave up better scoring chances than they did killing Minnesota's power plays.
Faceoffs are another area in which the Hawks need to improve this season, and Wednesday they won just 43 percent. In the game's final half-minute, Zhamnov lost three straight to Marc Chouinard to make things interesting. The game ended with a scramble in Thibault's crease.
"You expect things to be scrambled a little bit" at the end, Thibault said.
Five rookies dressed: backup goaltender Michael Leighton, Moen, Kukkonen, Ruutu and Igor Radulov. Radulov's ice time was limited by the short-handed time. The others saw plenty of time in key situations and didn't look out of place.
"They were a little nervous at the start of the game," Sutter said. "It was a tough initiation for them."