With 13 games into the season, the Chicago Blackhawks have surprised some with a 5-8 mark after taking on many of the league’s best. The names read off like a who’s who of Stanley Cup contenders: The Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s been non-stop for the Blackhawks, and ironically, the two teams within their rebuild realm beat them. A rough one to Arizona.
Of all the teams who were in a similar position to the Blackhawks after landing a generational talent, the 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins are likely the best measuring stick. The Penguins, not only won the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes, but also benefited from high draft picks prior and the season after Crosby’s rookie season.
Crosby put up 102 points in his rookie season. He had the same almost inexplicable expectations of succeed or fail with no gray in between.
Bedard is on pace for 57 goals and 82 points. Expect that to increase a bit, at least the points part, as the season goes on.
So 13 games in, how did the 2005-06 Penguins look? Here’s a glimpse.
Pittsburgh, like Chicago, Built to Compete and Mentor
The team was constructed similarly–in that many veterans of the league who were nearing the end of their careers–but had experienced significant success were a cocoon around Crosby. Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Ziggy Palffy, and even Mario Lemieux were there to teach the youngster the ropes. Marc-Andre Fleury appeared in 50 games that season, too.
The Penguins, unlike the Blackhawks, failed to capture their first win until the tenth game of the season. They were close, seeing four consecutive contests go to overtime. One was a shootout loss–the other three a point but a loss.
Upon completion of the 13th game, the Penguins were 3-5-5 as opposed to Chicago’s 5-8 start. In terms of points? The Penguins are up one.
But what about the schedule–was the schedule similar?
- Games one, seven, and 12 were against the New Jersey Devils who took two out of three from the Penguins. The Devils would take first in the division but fall to Carolina in the second round of the playoffs.
- The Hurricanes would be games two and 11, taking both. They would also be the Stanley Cup champions.
- The Boston Bruins, coached by Mike Sullivan, missed the playoffs but took both games from Pittsburgh.
- The Buffalo Sabres would finish second in the league, but fall to Carolina in the Eastern Conference Final. They narrowly beat Pittsburgh in overtime in game four of the season.
- The Philadelphia Flyers finished second in the Atlantic and fell to Buffalo in the first round. They beat the Penguins.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning finished second in the the Southeast Division and would fall in the first round. They beat the Penguins in their sixth game of the season 3-1.
- The Florida Panthers would finish 37-34 and miss the playoffs–but would beat Pittsburgh in OT as well.
- The first win? The Atlanta Thrashers–a 7-5 victory that saw two assists from Crosby. The Thrashers were 41-33-9 that season. Lemieux had five points in the game.
- Game 13? A win over the New York Islanders–the only other team with a losing record during the stretch. The Bruins were the other.
What Does it Say about the Blackhawks?
Outside of how it took Pittsburgh 10 games to a finally get a win, the Blackhawks, like that ’05-06 Penguins team, were in almost every game. The schedule they faced wasn’t much easier–and the league was also still in that odd spot of a clutch/grab league that was transitioning into a more fast paced one.
It also wanted to feature its new generational superstar as much as possible.
What about Crosby versus Connor Bedard? After 13 games, Crosby had four goals and 14 assists. That pace would slow a bit (on pace for 112 points) but Crosby opened the season with a six-game point streak (2-7) and 14 (2-12) after ten games.
The Blackhawks, in short, are precisely where they’re supposed to be. That Pittsburgh squad won a game less than its previous season and after trading wins and losses for some time through early November, the L’s started to collect for long stretches at times.
Will the Blackhawks repeat this? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless of what they do, it’s not the point. The main takeaway is that a team built in a similar fashion saw its generational player flourish and a season later, make the playoffs in 2006-07.
The schedule and the records are close. The numbers between Crosby and Bedard have some connections–they are who they appeared to be.
What’s left is to see how it all plays out over the course of a season. History after all repeats and those Pittsburgh Penguins would capture three Stanley Cups.
Blackhawks fans remember that, too.