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Rocky start for Hawks in loss
The Blackhawks felt Friday's game against the Colorado Avalanche would be a good test to measure themselves against one of the elite teams in the NHL.
It was no contest.
The Avalanche, preseason Stanley Cup favorites, rolled over the Hawks 5-0 in a game that was no contest.
The last time the Hawks ventured to the mountains, they were beat 8-1. Craig Anderson took the brunt of the damage that night.
Friday, in a surprise, Hawks coach Brian Sutter tapped rookie goaltender Michael Leighton for the start instead of Jocelyn Thibault.
Leighton received a first-hand look at the high-powered offense the Avalanche has assembled this season with the acquisitions of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne.
It took Kariya just 5 minutes 40 seconds to make himself at home, picking up a rebound from a Joe Sakic shot, dancing around a sprawling Jason Strudwick and then, skating to his left and ripping a shot over the shoulder of Leighton for his first goal as an Avalanche.
Friday morning, Selanne marveled at all the players that were assembled in the Colorado locker room.
"We have so many great players here," he said. "That's what makes it so much fun."
It's a lineup that can be intimidating before the puck is even dropped.
"Once you start worrying about the other team and their players, they've already started winning," Hawks winger Steve Sullivan said Thursday.
Selanne and Kariya, reunited in Denver after spending five years together in Anaheim, were everything that was expected of them skating with center Joe Sakic.
With such talent all on one line, Selanne said they had to be careful not to pass to each other all the time instead of taking good shots.
"You have to make the right decision at the right time and when it's time to shoot, it's time to shoot," Selanne said. "I think it's going to work great."
It was hard to argue after Sakic, left alone in front of Leighton, picked up a loose puck and tucked it past him to make it 2-0 at 7:36 of the first with Kariya picking up an assist.
Kariya picked up his third point midway through the second when he gave Rob Blake a soft pass that Blake hammered past Leighton on the short-side for a power-play goal.
Peter Forsberg, last season's NHL scoring leader who was relatively quiet up to then, picked up an assist for his first point of the season.
While the Sakic-Selanne-Kariya line went easy on the Hawks in the second, the Forsberg-Milan Hejduk-Alex Tanguay unit picked up the slack. Hejduk scored his first at 10:07 with Tanguay and Forsberg assisting to make it 4-0.
Colorado, coming off its record ninth consecutive division title even though it lost in the first round of last season's playoffs, begins this season with something to prove.
"Our expectation is the same it always is, that's to win the Stanley Cup," Avs coach Tony Granato said.
The Hawks hope they can have those same expectations one day. But as Colorado showed, that's still a ways off.