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The Chicago Blackhawks have lost five of their last seven games for an underwhelming 5-5-2 start to the season.
As hard as it’s been to watch the team’s lackluster performance recently, it’s certainly too soon to count them out. As winger and current points leader Patrick Kane told media:
“Not the start we wanted, but we still have a lot of good players. Let’s not push the panic button just yet.”
But the frustration is obvious in the players’ performance and expressions, and even in Coach Joel Quenneville’s decision to to close practice with players skating laps.
They’ve been outscored by their opponents 24 to 13 in their last seven outings, a deep contrast to their 10-1 season opener against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
They were 3-1-1 before taking on the Nashville Predators Oct. 14.
What has happened since then?
Blackhawks versus Predators 10/14
After a scoreless first period in which Corey Crawford made 18 saves, Filip Forsberg struck first in Chicago 1:42 into the second period by rebounding a P.K. Subban shot tipped toward the net by Scott Hartnell.
Crawford made 37 saves. Rinne made 33.
Saad told the Chicago SunTimes:
“I think it just had to do with us not managing the puck the right way. We had a lot of turnovers and they capitalized the other way. That’s what kept us in our own end, and we couldn’t create offense. We did it to ourselves. But we learned from it. It was a big win, and we’ll move on.”
They didn’t move on in the right direction, however.
Blackhawks at Blues 10/18
Then, on another offensive play, Schwartz lost an edge speeding to the left of the net and hit the boards hard head-first. He left the game but returned for the second period, when he scored again (assisted by Blues goalie Jake Allen) just over five minutes after puck drop.
Tarasenko took a 3-0 lead with an unassisted goal about two minutes later.
Schwartz capped off his hat trick, and the Blues’ victory, with an empty-netter (Colton Parayko) with 57 seconds remaining.
Quenneville summed it up pretty well in the post-game presser:
“They played well and we were brutal. It was a bad start, it was a bad middle, it wasn’t very good. Even a little excited at the end, but that wasn’t very good. That was as close to brutal as you can get.”
The next night, the Hawks had a much closer game hosting Edmonton.
Blackhawks versus Oilers, 10/19
The Edmonton Oilers took an overtime win in Chicago in a low-scoring 2-1 game.
The Hawks had five unsuccessful power plays in the game. Goalie Anton Forsberg made 40 saves.
He noted McDavid’s danger for defense to post-game press:
“You have to be aware [when McDavid] is on the ice, for sure. He comes with a lot of speed and makes all of his players on the ice better. You have to know where a lot of guys are. At the same time, you have to keep up with his pace. He’s, for sure, a good player.”
Quenneville talked about the lack of play-making.
“We had some great looks around the net. There was a lot of loose pucks, we just didn’t find, handle or weren’t anticipating or sniffing them up around the net. We had some close looks but no finish.”
This broke a four-game losing streak for the Oilers, but added to Chicago’s slump.
Blackhawks at Coyotes 10/21
The Coyotes came out howling, taking a 1-0 lead when Christian Fischer‘s shot off a long pass from Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Nick Cousins) deflected off a Blackhawks player and past Crawford at 12:13 in the first.
At 11:32 of the second, Kane took a Toews pass for a breakaway goal and a 2-1 lead.
Tommy Wingels had a penalty shot goal overturned by video review at 17:24 into the second.
With 1:03 left in regulation, Wingels passed to Keith whose shot from the slot was redirected in by Lance Bouma.
And, the Hawks sealed their victory 24 seconds later when Wingels scored off a setup from Bouma and Keith.
Crawford made 27 saves. Louis Domingue stopped 25 for the Coyotes.
Quenneville commended his fourth liners, Wingels, Bouma, and Hayden to media after the game:
“I think what they did prior to that put them in a position to be out there in that situation, and I like what we saw. Those are the kind of goals you score in our league, second opportunities, traffic at the net. Moving forward, we can take a page out of what they’re doing.
“They give us a different look, not just skill, but some hard work, some physicality, some puck possession.”
Blackhawks at Golden Knights 10/24
The Blackhawks’ good start of the game couldn’t match up to the Golden Knights‘ phenomenal start to the season.
At 3:33 into the first, Hayden scored an unassisted shorthanded goal on goalie Oscar Dansk.
And, another goal came about halfway through the third, when Jonathan Marchessault took a pass from Nate Schmidt (Luca Sbisa) missed by Wingels and Bouma, and shot from the left faceoff circle over Crawford’s left shoulder.
Kane tapped in a dish from Saad with 1:05 remaining in regulation, but it was too little too late for Chicago.
Toews noted the strength of the Knights’ game to the press.
“It’s a fun, exciting atmosphere. There’s no doubt they’re excited to play and just to go out there and not necessarily be the underdogs, but just go out there and try and make teams make plays and score and frustrate them, and they’re really keying off that and getting some energy off that.”
There was a time when Chicago played that way. But they seem to have lost touch.
Blackhawks versus Predators 10/27
With one lone goal in the first period, the Blackhawks were unable to beat the Rinne and the Predators.
Less than a minute back onto the ice, Calle Jarnkrok fired a wrister from between the circles to tie the Hawks.
Then, with 8:58 remaining in the second, P.K Subban and Kevin Fiala set up Craig Smith, whose wrist-shot from the circle beat Crawford–and ultimately the Blackhawks as it went unanswered through the end buzzer.
Rinne made 43 saves in the game.
Quenneville took the loss with a positive twist in the presser:
“Definitely a tough loss. I mean there were more positives than a lot of games. We probably played our best period outside of the first two periods in the Pittsburgh game.”
Unfortunately the momentum didn’t carry over to Colorado.
Blackhawks at Avalanche 10/28
The Blackhawks fell five goals behind through most of the second before they even got started in Colorado.
About 12 minutes later, Alexander Kerfoot set up Mackinnon on the power play for a top-shelf wrister from the slot, making it 2-0 Avalanche.
A no-look backhander from Rantanen bounced off Forsberg and Keith into the net for a 3-0 lead with four seconds left in the first.
Mackinnon (Gabriel Landeskog, Rantanen) opened the second period by stacking a fourth goal over the Blackhawks.
Schmaltz tipped a shot from Michal Kempny (Hayden) just over a minute after Andrighetto’s goal, getting Chicago on the board.
It was followed a few minutes later with a two-on-one goal from Anisimov and DeBrincat (Kempny) for a 5-2 score as the second period closed.
Grimaldi tipped in a one-timer from Erik Johnson (Andrighetto) to make it 6-2 at 8:45 into the third.
And, with under five minutes left, Hartman (Wingels, Bouma) found the puck in a mad scramble and fought to bring the Hawks back into the game.
Schmaltz told the press of the team’s challenges after the game:
“Obviously we didn’t get off to a great start. We dug ourselves a big hole and couldn’t find our way back. We’ve just got to keep battling and work on our starts a little bit, make sure we’re coming out fast. That was a hungry team. They came out quick and put it to us right away.”
Toews talked to the press about the team’s shortcomings in recent games:
“We’ve been playing good hockey at times, sporadically, but obviously it’s not good enough. We get ourselves down in games and it’s just too little too late to try and come back. Throughout our games there’s some good things here and there. We’ve just got to be way more consistent.
“We want to look at the big picture and stay positive. There’s got to be urgency, but we can’t overreact.”
There’s no question the Blackhawks aren’t finding their groove on the ice right now. They know it and so does their coach, who, according to Chicago media, ended Tuesday’s morning practice not with a pep talk but with player laps.
“I didn’t like the last part of our practice. The intensity and the pace went down to a tough-to-watch [level]. It was just, ‘Let’s go.’”
The team needs more “Let’s go” in its mindset.
If they come out hot, they can’t maintain. If they get a slow start, they’re not able to push past the opponent. They’re not making many pretty goals, with very few gritty ones either.
One move the Hawks are making is some lineup changes.
DeBrincat is moving to Toews’ line, where he can play on his more comfortable left side. Saad will be joining Kane, a matchup that’s done well in the past. Cody Franson is joining Keith on the top defensive pairing.
Saad told reporters the team is comfortable shifting lines:
“We have a deep team. Regardless of who you’re with, you’re playing with a good hockey player. [Quenneville] is looking at different looks and we need to regroup right now and get back to playing the right way.”
There’s no doubt the line blender will run on the fly, but the Blackhawks need to see what can be done with a talented roster and learn how best to utilize it.
The Blackhawks host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7 p.m. C.T. Wednesday on NBC Sports.