ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ first tripping came barely a minute into the game. Then came another one. And another. And another. And another. Despite welcoming one of their fastest players back into the lineup, the Blackhawks were overall flat-footed and playing catch-up all night, be it on the ice or on the scoreboard, to the St. Louis Blues.
Nick Schmaltz returned but the effect on the second line and the Blackhawks overall wasn’t immediate. Instead the Blackhawks looked sluggish. Their offensive opportunities were few – a one and done here and there but no sustained zone time or pressure on Blues goaltender Jake Allen – their passing was off and they were on the defensive all night.
And then there were the tripping penalties. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill held up through it, nullifying all five Blues power-play opportunities. But the Blues found other ways to inflict their damage.
“They played well and we were brutal,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was a bad start, a bad middle and even [though] it was a little excited at the end it wasn’t very good. That’s as close to brutal as you can get.”
The Blackhawks’ last three games have common themes: they’re outshot for a good part of the game, they’re giving up a good amount of quality shots and then the urgency hits them midway through the third period. For the third consecutive contest the Blackhawks scored two goals late and in two of those three games it wasn’t nearly enough.
“Obviously it wasn’t good enough for two periods. If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third,” Patrick Kane said. “At least we know we can do it. Just gotta do it before our backs are against the wall.”
Why it’s taking the Blackhawks so long to get going, however, is the question. Obviously the Blackhawks’ late third-period pushes show how capable they are of producing when necessary. Said Alex DeBrincat, who assisted on Ryan Hartman’s goal late in regulation, “If we’re would’ve been crashing the net like that all game it may have been a different story.”
But they didn’t. The Blackhawks welcomed back a teammate that’s injected speed into their lineup but the team was once again stumbling out of the gate.
“We’re supposed to be out there, giving our all every minute we’re out there and every shift, go out there and take it a shift at a time and give it all you got every shift,” Hartman said. “We have four lines that can roll so there’s no excuse for not going out there and putting all your energy out there for a shift and getting ready for the next one.”
Unless Joe Maddon gets blindsided by top-down changes or a personal decision, it sounds like the Cubs manager expects his entire coaching staff to return for the 2018 season, keeping together the group that has made three consecutive trips to the National League Championship Series.
“Of course,” Maddon said Wednesday at Wrigley Field, where the defending World Series champs were facing an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, on the verge of getting swept out of the NLCS. “Listen, the staff’s done a great job. Our staff’s been awesome. It’s a tightly-knit group. Really, there’s a lot of synergy involved.
“Nobody knows everything. Everybody helps everybody. There’s a lot of cross-pollination. Nobody’s on their own little island. I really like that.”
Pitching coach Chris Bosio – who would be an in-demand candidate after helping develop Jake Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and turn Kyle Hendricks into last year’s major-league ERA leader – also told WSCR-AM 670 that he believes the staff will remain intact.
Maddon – who only brought bench coach Dave Martinez over from the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season – is a hands-off boss and a baseball lifer who did a lot of grunt work before becoming rich and famous.
“I don’t think any of them ever withhold saying something to me that they have on their mind, which I really appreciate,” Maddon said. “They don’t feel like they can’t say it. That’s the one thing I always wanted to build, that kind of a method where: ‘If you got something, say it. Don’t hold it back. Just say it. You know you can.’
“There’s nothing held against you for doing it. I think in some places that isn’t the case, so there’s a lot of positive messaging going on.”
This would be a connect-the-dots scenario, but Maddon ruled out the idea of hiring Jim Hickey, the longtime pitching coach who has roots in Chicago and parted ways with the Rays this month. Hickey’s influence helped turn the Rays into a viable small-market contender, coaching up young pitchers like David Price and Chris Archer.
“I called him to console a friend,” Maddon said. “We have not discussed (anything else). I just wanted to know how he was doing, purely because it kind of surprised me, and it surprised a lot of us. So I did talk to ‘Hick,’ but we talk all the time.
“He sends me texts when he’s driving over the causeways down there, because he knows how much I love looking for dolphins driving over the Howard Franklin or the Gandy Bridge. So he (texts): ‘I saw a couple dolphins this morning.’ And I try to get him to come to our parties – he’s a funny guy.
“We had a great relationship and he’s going to turn out just fine. He’s going to be well-sought-after.”