Taylor Hall needed only five shifts upon returning to the Blackhawks’ lineup Saturday to finally score his first goal as a Hawk.
Hall capped the Hawks’ explosive three-goal first period by slipping a shot through Panthers backup goalie Anthony Stolarz after a beautiful stretch pass from Jason Dickinson. It ended up going down as the game-winner in the Hawks’ 5-2 victory, their first at home this season.
“It has been a little bit of an unfortunate start to my season — just individually getting [in] rhythm — so it’s nice to see a goal go in and check that box off,” Hall said.
When the veteran forward was sidelined two weeks ago — for the second time already this season — by his left shoulder injury, he looked at the calendar and realized he could take advantage of the Hawks’ spaced-out schedule. By returning this weekend, he got 13 days off yet missed only three games.
Coach Luke Richardson eased him into action on the third line with Dickinson and Tyler Johnson, and he logged 15:44 of ice time.
That allowed the first line of Connor Bedard centering Nick Foligno and Philipp Kurashev to remain untouched, and that decision paid off as all three scored goals of their own.
Bedard’s tally marked his fourth in his last five games and served as another warning to opposing defenses that they cannot afford to give him the time and space to unleash clean shots. He has proven his ability to bury those at an extremely high rate.
After the Hawks built a 4-0 lead, goalie Petr Mrazek fended off waves of Panthers attacks, finishing with 38 saves on 40 shots and improving his overall save percentage to .923. Scoring chances favored Florida by a whopping 34-10 margin over the final two periods, but he held down the fort enough to help the Hawks get to the final horn.
“We came out with some juice,” Hall added. “We didn’t really sustain that as well as we wanted to. But over the course of this year, hopefully that’s something we get to.”
Vlasic close, too
Defenseman Alex Vlasic missed his second consecutive game Saturday due to a concussion, but he’s expected to return Sunday against the Devils. Isaak Phillips was sent back down to Rockford.
“That was my first real concussion, so [it was] definitely a little scary at the start,” Vlasic said. “My parents were pretty worried. But all things considered, it could’ve been a lot worse [in terms of] how long I was out.”
Fellow rookie defenseman Kevin Korchinski not only logged his 10th game Saturday, officially burning the first year of his contract, but Richardson also threw cold water on speculation the Hawks might let him leave in December to participate in the world junior championships.
Kaiser wears neck guard
Several players around the NHL have recently begun wearing neck guards in the wake of the Adam Johnson tragedy, which likely wouldn’t have happened if the former Penguins forward had been wearing such protection during the fateful game in England last week.
On Saturday, Wyatt Kaiser became the first Hawk to do so. He said he felt accustomed to it because he previously wore a neck guard in high school and world juniors.
“It just wasn’t worth the risk,” Kaiser said. “I don’t even notice it out there. It’s a no-brainer.”
Johnson’s death hit particularly close to home for Kaiser. He and Johnson are both Minnesota-Duluth alums, and although they didn’t overlap there, they did skate together a few times this past summer.
Capitals forward T.J. Oshie’s hockey gear company, Warroad, has emerged as a leader in the scramble for neck guards around the hockey world, and Kaiser has already been wearing some Warroad gear.
However, Warroad’s undershirt with built-in neck protection — which looks like a turtleneck sweater — has temporarily sold out. Hawks equipment manager Troy Parchman instead fashioned Kaiser a makeshift guard, which looks more like an unattached collar.