Blackhawks should get used to winning ugly

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Not long ago, the Chicago Blackhawks probably would have been fuming about the sort of win they opened the season with, not unlike Aaron Rodgers essentially subtweeting his coach after a 22-0 Packers victory.

If the Ottawa Senators aren’t written in Sharpie as the odds-on worst team in the NHL, they enter 2018-19 as easily the most miserable (you’re off the hook, Montreal Canadiens).

In trading away Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman during a historically bad summer, the Senators took on the Blackhawks last night with Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and … not a whole lot else.

Yet, as limited as the Senators clearly seem to be, the Blackhawks didn’t steamroll their opponents. In fact, they trailed the Senators from Colin White‘s 3-2 goal late in the first period until Brent Seabrook tied things up with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation, needing a nifty Patrick Kane OT goal to down the lowly Sens.

You can’t just chalk this up to Craig Anderson beginning his “every other year” cycle with some awe-inspiring performance or Cam Ward conversely playing like, well, Cam Ward, either.

This was, by most measures, a pretty evenly-played game. For example: the two teams were tied in “high-danger chances” with 10 apiece, according to Natural Stat Trick.

via Corsica Hockey

To review: a team that is still built in a “win-now” mode barely beat the sad sack Senators, and with Corey Crawford‘s murky health in mind, will likely see their hopes hinge on Cam Ward. In 2018.

Chicago doesn’t boast a lot of positive difference-makers beyond its big-money players, so they’ll need their stars to carry substantial burdens. That worked out last night, but it remains to be seen if the Blackhawks’ aging core can keep this up over an 82-game season.

Now, it’s not all bad, even if it’s … mostly bad.

While it’s early, the Blackhawks integrated some new faces into the lineup, with Joel Quenneville sounding pretty smitten about Henri Jokiharju.

Maybe most importantly, the Blackhawks saw great starts from their big names.

Obviously, Kane scored that overtime game-winner, Duncan Keith played well, and Seabrook at least made a significant play. Jonathan Toews‘ play may be most crucial, and he enjoyed a great Thursday, scoring a goal and assisting on Kane’s game-winning goal. Toews did more than just scoring, firing four shots on goal and winning 20 of 29 faceoffs.

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Heading into this season, only one PHT staffer picked the Blackhawks to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while two of five picked them to finish last in the Central Division.

If nothing else, the Blackhawks are about as close to underdogs as you’re going to get when you’ve recently won your third Stanley Cup as a core group. Could they defy the odds and return to the postseason after failing last year?

To make it work, they’ll need to get a lot out of stars like Kane and Toews, the Blackhawks will probably need to win a lot of ugly games.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.