It would be easy to look at Wednesday night's final score and come to the conclusion that not much has changed for the Blackhawks since they were last seen in April 2004.
But coach Trent Yawney isn't going to draw too many conclusions after a season-opening 5-3 loss to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks before a United Center crowd of 16,533.
He won't be building much off a power play that was not only 1-for-9 but also gave up a pair of short-handed goals. In a season in which special teams may be more important than ever, four of the five goals Anaheim scored were on special teams--two on the power play, two short-handed.
"You have to give [the Ducks] credit," Hawks center Curtis Brown said. "They were ready to jump on the attack while killing [penalties], and maybe we can learn something from that. It definitely won them the game."
A loud, boisterous crowd--perhaps better than expected, considering the lockout, the last dismal Hawks season and a White Sox playoff game--was in full throat during the national anthem and again when Mark Bell scored the first goal of the season 8 minutes 22 seconds into the first period to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
"The start was excellent," Yawney said.
"When we played five-on-five, we were very good."
It's playing five-on-five for extended periods that had been the problem in exhibitions, and it was the same Wednesday night. Anaheim tied the game while on a two-man advantage midway through the first period. Matthew Barnaby drew a double minor for high-sticking Sergei Fedorov, and then Adrian Aucoin took a hooking penalty.
Nikolai Khabibulin, making his regular-season debut, was brilliant in a 20-second span, stopping three point-blank shots. But with one second left on Aucoin's penalty, Teemu Selanne beat Khabibulin to tie the game 1-1.
Anaheim then went up 3-1 on a pair of goals from Joffrey Lupul, both of which Khabibulin would like to have back. The first came short-handed on a breakaway when Lupul's shot trickled between Khabibulin's pads. The second came when Lupul avoided a check from Brent Seabrook and fought off another from Jim Vandermeer before sliding a shot between Khabibulin's legs.
"I felt a little weird," Khabibulin said. "I really wanted to do well. I tried not to think about it, but it was in the back of my mind."
A brilliant shift in which the Hawks pinned the Ducks in their own end resulted in Brown's goal to cut the lead to 3-2 at 8:40 of the second period. But it was Brown in the penalty box a minute later when Scott Niedermayer tipped a Fedorov shot past Khabibulin to restore the Ducks' two-goal advantage.
Again the Hawks pulled within one with Rene Bourque pouncing on a rebound for his first NHL goal at 16:04 of the second period.
"It felt good to get the first one out of the way, but it's not as sweet as it would have been if we would have gotten the win," Bourque said.
The Hawks had the momentum in the third period when former Hawk Travis Moen took a holding penalty 17 seconds in. But Khabibulin muffed an Andy McDonald shot and Rob Niedermayer beat Duncan Keith to the rebound for the second short-handed goal of the night 1:40 into the third.
Khabibulin didn't want to blame the new, smaller equipment for his problems.
"I have to play better," he said. "We scored three goals. Most nights we should win the game when we score three goals."
Overcoming one short-handed goal can be difficult enough. Two is too many.
"It takes a little wind out of your sails," Yawney said.
Mighty Ducks 5, Blackhawks 3