Connor Bedard’s home debut for the Chicago Blackhawks figured to be a momentous occasion regardless of the foe.
That will go double Saturday as the surging Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights — not to mention a raucous United Center crowd — get their first regular-season look at the top pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Vegas comes to town on a season-opening five-game winning streak. That effort matches the 1985-86 Edmonton Oilers and 1920-21 Ottawa Senators for the longest winning streak by a defending Cup champion to begin a campaign.
Jack Eichel’s power-play goal with 4:36 remaining propelled the Golden Knights to their latest victory, 5-3, against the host Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night. Logan Thompson made 36 saves.
“You’re not always going to win pretty, but you do have to find a way to win these ugly games,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said. “We didn’t have the quickest start. We kind of settled in, and I think we had a good middle frame, middle part of the game.”
Not so much for the Blackhawks, who sputtered to a 4-0 loss at the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday in the finale of a five-game road trip to start the season.
Chicago won two of five on the trip, but Thursday was the most uneven showing.
“I thought we skated well in the first 10 minutes, and then unfortunately they got a short-handed goal and then a power-play goal. And it seemed like we were chasing after that,” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said.
The Avalanche limited Bedard to zero shot attempts in 19:37 of ice time. However, offensive opportunities weren’t exactly bountiful for the rest of the Blackhawks. Colorado outshot Chicago 41-18, as Petr Mrazek stopped 37 shots for the Blackhawks.
“We are not in a position to be making excuses at all,” Chicago forward Nick Foligno said. “We’re a team that needs to fight for respect now. We weren’t the team that we expect to be, so that’s disappointing. We’re trying to grow this. I know there’s going to be growing pains, so you don’t get too high (or) too low. But you want to see some progress, and today it just felt like we left a little bit on the table.”
With home fans no doubt clamoring for an instant-gratification goal from Bedard, he and the Blackhawks will get a stiff test whether they face Thompson or Adin Hill in net.
Thompson has stopped 58 of 62 shots so far.
“He did an unbelievable job” Thursday, Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar said. “He bailed so many of us out in so many key moments.”
On the other side of the puck, Shea Theodore contributed three assists for Vegas against Winnipeg, while Stone added two. Veteran defenseman Alec Martinez, who missed the first four games with an upper-body injury, scored in his season debut, logging 19:02 of ice time.
Vegas took two of three from Chicago last season. The Blackhawks earned their lone victory of the series at home in a shootout.