Blackhawks working through frustrations: 'We're trying to find our way'

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks working through frustrations: 'We're trying to find our way'

You’ve seen it at times in recent Blackhawks games. A player waiting one extra second to make that pass or take that shot. Another going full steam ahead up ice toward the net, only to stop not far past the blue line and look for other options.

As the early losses have piled up several trends have formed. We’ve been through the scoring droughts (read 5-on-5 and power play) and there are times it looks like the Blackhawks are second guessing themselves out there. Has hesitation crept into the Blackhawks’ overall game?

“It’s tough to say,” Patrick Sharp said following Monday’s practice. “It’s been a frustrating last week, last couple of games, not getting the results we’ve wanted. It’s still early in the season and maybe we’re trying to find our way. But more than that, it’s just individuals getting themselves ready to play, competing a little bit harder and being ready for every game because every opponent that we’ve played has been ready to play us. We need to match that level of intensity.”

Yes, most opponents have been ready. The Colorado Avalanche suffered a 7-0 drubbing to the Vegas Golden Knights heading into Saturday night’s game against the Blackhawks. Likely ticked off after that performance the Avs jumped on the Blackhawks right away, taking advantage of an off night from Anton Forsberg. That rare off-goaltending night aside, the Blackhawks haven’t had a consistent killer instinct. After doing a lot of things right in their 2-1 loss to Nashville on Friday night, the Blackhawks took a step back the following evening.

“When we don't play so well, we're a little bit too easy giving up scoring chances. When you're playing from behind all the time you start to kind of force the offense and then it just gets harder and harder, especially when you're getting your chances. They don't go in as often when you're trying too hard,” Jonathan Toews said. “A lot of it is just simplifying our game and getting back to outworking teams and eventually you're going to get those ugly goals and those bounces around the net. That's what builds your confidence in the long run.”

It’s been rare when the Blackhawks haven’t looked like a confident bunch, but they’re not appearing to play the part right now. There’s been a hitch in their game. It’s early in the season and there’s time to iron out the kinks, but the Blackhawks know they definitely have to get back to playing strong, determined hockey soon.

“There’s been a handful of mistakes, a handful of letdowns. But part of the process is just getting better, identifying the errors and trying to improve as the season goes along,” Sharp said. “We have a talented group in here and it’s just matter of time before we put it all together.”

Blackhawks offense sputtering? Break out the line blender

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AP

Blackhawks offense sputtering? Break out the line blender

When the Blackhawks pummeled the Pittsburgh Penguins 10-1 on Oct. 5 a very optimistic, albeit misguided, phrase was bandied about in certain circles.

“This was a statement game!”

Sure, if you’re super positive that’s one way to go but it was presumptuous. That one game was an anomaly. It was one big, beautiful anomaly for the Blackhawks, who were facing a team that was not only likely tired from two consecutive Stanley Cup runs but also tired from a game the previous night. But it was an anomaly nonetheless.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when the Blackhawks were the latest to fall to the upstart expansion Vegas Golden Knights. It was the latest in a series of games in which the Blackhawks’ offense has sputtered; asked by The Athletic’s Scott Powers if it’s time to consider different lines, coach Joel Quenneville said, “it’s definitely something we can look at.”

If the line blender is utilized at Thursday’s practice it won’t be a surprise. In their first two games the Blackhawks scored 15 goals (7.5 per game); again, that wonky first game skews everything. The Blackhawks’ offense has since come back to earth, recording 19 goals in their last eight games (2.375 per game). The Blackhawks’ best line over the last two games has been the fourth line. Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels and John Hayden have each scored in those contests. That’s great for the fourth line but not positive for the other three lines.

The top line has probably been the most consistent but has had its off nights. Many figured (myself included) that once Nick Schmaltz got healthy/back in the lineup that he, Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman would snap right back into Game 1 form. That really hasn’t happened yet. The third line of Patrick Sharp, Artem Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat hasn’t produced much, either. Anisimov, especially, has been struggling.

Regardless of the line the issues have been the same: too many one-and-done opportunities, not enough zone time and not enough puck possession. The last two used to be such consistent parts of the Blackhawks’ game and they had a lot of success because of them. Getting back to dominating zone time and puck possession can be done, but the Blackhawks need to find the right combinations to do so.

There was nothing wrong with celebrating the Blackhawks’ eye-popping, opening-night victory against the Penguins. Calling it a “statement game” was getting a little ahead of things. There has been more of a statement made in the Blackhawks’ recent trend of games, and it’s a reminder that this season is going to be a work in progress.

Break out the blender.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 loss to Golden Knights: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 loss to Golden Knights: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night:
 
1. John Hayden's presence felt again.

The Energy Line shined in the Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Arizona on Saturday, and they picked up where they left off in this one. But Hayden particularly was very noticeable.

The 22 year-old opened the scoring just 3:33 (sup, Pat Foley?) into the contest with a shorthanded goal for his first of the season. He also finished the game with one shot on goal, two hits and a takeaway, and logged his highest ice time (13:03) since the second game of the season.

2. About that power play...

It's (almost) gotten to the point where the Blackhawks may be better off declining their power plays.

After capitalizing on their only opportunity in Arizona, the Blackhawks went 0-for-3 on the man advantage and struggled to generate any sort of quality scoring chances.

Joel Quenneville has tried mixing up both units, but the results won't turn around unless they get some traffic to the net. It's not fun fighting for position in front of the goaltender on a nightly basis, especially when the season is a marathon and not a sprint, but it's necessary to breaking through.
 
3. Ryan Hartman defends teammate.

It may not have been the best timing, but there's never really a bad time to stick up for your teammate when it's warranted.

Late in the second period with the Blackhawks trailing 2-1, Nick Schmaltz was leveled by Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb near the team bench, which prompted Hartman to commit a slashing and roughing penalty when coming to the defense of his teammate. The Blackhawks ended up killing off the double-minor penalty, but the Golden Knights scored seconds later and didn't look back.

Any time somebody takes a run at one of your star players, you have to make it known that there will be consequences, even if it's a clean hit. It essentially makes opponents think twice about doing it again. 
 
4. Patrick Kane (barely) extends point streak.

With 65 seconds left in regulation, Kane's point streak lived to fight another day after he scored a goal at the doorstep assisted by Brandon Saad.

Kane has registered at least a point in six consecutive games, and has also found the back of the net in his last three. He finished the game with 10 shot attempts (six on goal), and started double-shifting a bit in the third period.
 
5. Remember Jonathan Marchessault?

The last time Marchessault got a crack at Chicago, he netted a hat trick in a 7-0 win as a member of the Florida Panthers on March 25 last season.

He continued that success against the Blackhawks, scoring a third-period goal on the power play and recording seven shot attempts (five on goal), two hits and one takeaway. He was all over the scoresheet.