Patrick Kane

Patrick Kane happy to welcome new toughness into Chicago

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When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, they did it with a healthy mix of skill and toughness. With guys like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa mixed in with the likes of Ben Eager, Adam Burish, and Troy Brouwer they were the careful mix of sandpaper and skill that teams need to lift the Stanley Cup at the end of the year.

Last season, however, things were a bit different for Chicago. Gone were the likes of Burish and Eager (among others) and they had to find other ways to win games. Playing tougher defense systematically was one way they did it and still they were able to make the playoffs and nearly pull off a first round victory against Vancouver.

This offseason has seen things change a bit for Chicago. While they weren’t selling everyone off this time around, bringing in the likes of Sean O’Donnell and Steve Montador on defense along with Jamal Mayers and Dan Carcillo at forward, that snarl is back in the Windy City and one guy that’s glad to see it is Patrick Kane.

Kane tells ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers that that physical element was something they were missing last year.

“I don’t think you can have ever have more than enough [toughness], especially on our team,” Kane said. “You look at so many skill players that we have, I think last year — I don’t want to say we got exposed — but we weren’t like as protected enough as years before.

“Sometimes you have to mix and match. You just can’t put the best 12 players on the ice at all times because they are the most skilled. You need certain players for certain roles.”

One other guy that found his way out of town was Troy Brouwer who was traded to Washington for a first round pick. Brouwer had some skill and had a penchant for getting in opponents heads with his ability to talk a big game. Kane says Brouwer’s loss might be a bit bigger than some let on.

“I think the thing with Brouwer, he never really felt like he got a fair shake,” Kane said.

Perhaps that kind of feeling inside is what helped him be as effective as he was at rubbing opponents the wrong way.

If Chicago thought that Brouwer wasn’t being effective enough, they’ll get an over-correction in that brand of game thanks to Carcillo’s presence. His work being an agitator, while sometimes endearing to fans, can lead his team into trouble with needless penalties. Savvy veterans like Mayers, O’Donnell, and Montador should be able to do enough to help counteract Carcillo’s shenanigans. If those guys can’t do it, then dealing with ultra-serious and ultra-competitive team captain Jonathan Toews should do it.

With the moves Chicago’s made, they’re certainly going to be more nasty to deal with and with how they played down the stretch last season with their intensive style of hockey, adding that physical element into the mix will help better establish the Blackhawks in the Western Conference race.

Then again, all that that will guarantee is that they’ll find another way to meet Vancouver in the playoffs somehow once again. Hey, after three years it has to happen, right?

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.