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The Chicago Blackhawks lost 5-1 in the season opener in a way in which the short training camp and experience gap showed against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Somehow Thursday’s 5-1 loss to the Dallas Stars was worse.
Lack of chemistry no longer is an excuse, and up until two weeks ago the Hawks looked a shoo-in to make the postseason. Egregious errors led to goals, and the way things spiraled after each setback was unsettling.
“That’s been a theme with our losses,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. “We seem to be a little bit fragile. Instead of picking each other up and a mistake on a goal or a shift where they’re on us, we don’t seem to be responding very well.”
Coach Jeremy Colliton searched for positives.
“I thought five on five we were quite good,” he said. “Last two periods, obviously we give them some goals with some individual mistakes.”
But there were no positives with special teams.
“The power play was a big difference in the game: They got two, we got zero,” said Colliton, with each team getting three chances.
Meanwhile, the Hawks lost a little bit more ground with the fourth-place Nashville Predators beating the Detroit Red Wings and moving four points ahead of the Hawks.
Dominik Kubalik, who scored the Hawks’ only goal, said, “I like to be honest, I don’t really look at the standings now. I think it’s all about us. How we’re going to play.
“We’ve still got a lot of games in front of us and I think we’re going to be playing the way we need to play.”
Here are three takeaways from the loss to the Stars.
1. How did the Hawks go from scrappy to ‘fragile’?
The Hawks didn’t just wilt during the game, they wilted after an impressive bounce-back win Tuesday coming off a shutout loss.
The feisty version of the Hawks have come back and won the second game of a series five times after losing the first game.
Conversely, Thursday was just the second time the Hawks lost the second game after winning the first, and both losses have happened this month.
Does that suggest that — as Murphy put it — the Hawks have become “fragile”?
“It’s probably not how I would quite describe it,” Colliton said. “We’ve got to be willing to stick with it longer, when you do the right thing and it doesn’t turn out for you, doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may not get rewarded that shift or that period or even that night, but to me that’s the only way you get through it.”
Colliton said that was the case when the Hawks beat the Stars 4-2 Tuesday after a 3-0 loss to the Predators: “I liked our response. Didn’t like our response tonight.”
Murphy couldn’t put a finger on what’s going on with the team in recent games.
“It’s just something that’s happening,” he said. “When you’re a playoff team and you have your game together, it seems like nothing can faze you. You’re able to give up a chance or a goal and it doesn’t faze your team game or the details you play with as a team.
“Lately in these losses, when we give up momentum for longer spurts of time, we haven’t been (playing unfazed). Whether it’s leaving your next-shift teammates out in a better spot or making a play to set up someone else to get out of the zone or in their zone and come back, there’s so many plays that happen in a game.
“But when the things that we do well aren’t going well, we’ve got to be able to fall back on our team game and not let momentum get too carried away like it did tonight.”
2. The power play and the penalty kill need to be figured out — quickly.
It seems like ages ago the Blackhawks had the top power play — and they were wining games because of it.
Even in the last month, they maintained the No. 3 power play. But as of Friday, they’re sixth and have scored just one power-play goal in the last 20 chances.
Each opportunity is different, but in several cases defenders are hanging around the blue line and challenging the Hawks as they try to enter the offensive zone.
Or when the Hawks get there, defensemen are clearing shots and clogging shooting lanes. The Hawks’ units have responded by being extra choosy about their shots, and that’s only compounded the problem.
“We were in their zone and we just didn’t shoot that much how we should,” Kubalik said. “For me, I think maybe just throw it there. You can hit someone, make something happen out of it.
“When things aren’t going your way, that’s how you’re going to bring it back, so I think just make it simple, shoot more and it’s going to come.”
The 28th-ranked penalty kill always was a potential liability, and it gave up two goals on three chances Thursday.
Said Murphy: “There’s different plays that result in goals but to be honest I don’t know how to answer that with something specifically. It’s just something that we have been giving up too many goals and it’s very frustrating.”
3. The Hawks look forward to getting Brett Connolly and Riley Stillman in Columbus.
The Hawks traded for the former Florida Panthers on Friday, and the plan was for Connolly, a forward, and Stillman, a defenseman, to drive to Columbus, Ohio, in time for a two-game series against the Blue Jackets. They also acquired forward prospect Henrik Borgstrom and a 2021 seventh-round pick.
“All three of them are guys that have something to prove and we’re excited about it,” Colliton said.
“… I don’t have an answer for you as far as when they’ll play but we think they can contribute.:
The Hawks parted ways with Lucas Wallmark and Lucas Carlsson, who weren’t a factor in the Hawks’ playoff push.
Colliton said Stillman is a physical player who will add some “hardness” to the young stable of blueliners.
“And then Connolly, he’s got some experience, he’s won a Cup, he’s shown he can score in the league,” Colliton said. “He’s a big body and so we’ll see.”
Here is more game coverage.
The Chicago Blackhawks had a chance Thursday to keep pace in the Central Division and pad their lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars. That opportunity went out the window, however, during a second-period meltdown, and the Stars beat the Hawks 5-1 at the United Center.
Nikita Zadorov made a critical turnover in the Hawks’ defensive zone and Duncan Keith’s slip on the ice created another giveaway, and both led to goals in the second period.
The Hawks (41 points) fell further behind the fourth-place Nashville Predators (45), who beat Detroit on Thursday, and saw their lead over the Stars (38) shrink. But they did not lose any ground to the Blue Jackets (38), who lost to Tampa Bay.
On the positive side for the Hawks, linemates Dominik Kubalik and Vinnie Hinostroza — still fresh off his trade from the Florida Panthers — teamed up on a goal for the second straight game.
Hinostroza assisted on Kubalik’s goal during Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Stars, and during the first period Thursday, Philipp Kurashev helped dig the puck out from a battle on the back wall and Hinostroza fed Kubalik from the below the goal line as Kubalik crashed the net.
Kubalik slipped the puck between Anton Khudobin and the post for his 14th goal of the season. The marker came about five minutes after Roope Hintz opened the scoring with a power-play rebound goal as Hawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen lost his stick.
The second period was all Stars.
During a four-on-four, Zadorov turned the puck over in the Hawks’ own zone and wandered up ice as Jason Robertson closed in on Lankinen. Zadorov tried to recover but it was too late; the Stars’ rookie left winger and Calder Trophy candidate notched his 14th goal.
On the Stars’ third power play, the Hawks’ 28th-ranked penalty kill failed them again. The Stars passed around the perimeter of the box defense, and Miro Heiskanen sniped a shot down the alley between four Hawks defenders.
In the last three games, the Hawks penalty kill yielded has three goals on six opportunities, including two Thursday.
“It’s frustrating giving up goals,” Hawks defenseman Connor Murphy said. “I don’t have an answer to be honest. There’s different plays that result in goals. ... It stings when you’re giving them up.”
The Hawks were in the offensive zone when Keith took a pass from Hinostroza and backpedaled along the blue line.
But Keith stumbled and as he fell, he tried to push it deeper into the zone, but the Stars’ Andrew Cogliano cut it off and zipped it to Blake Comeau, who bolted on a breakaway with Adam Boqvist trailing.
Comeau roofed it past Lankinen and suddenly the Hawks were down 4-1 with 4:13 left in the second.
After Keith committed another giveaway — this time in the defensive zone — Comeau struck again with a backdoor goal off Hintz’s assist 50 seconds into the third. Hintz had three assists on the night.
Lankinen made 29 saves but gave up the most goals since a six-goal loss to Tampa Bay on March 7.
Khudobin had 38 stops and shut out the Hawks on three power-play opportunities.