Four takeaways: Blackhawks on losing end of another whacky home opener

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on losing end of another whacky home opener

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-4 loss to the San Jose Sharks at the United Center in Thursday's home opener:

1. Another whacky home opener

The Blackhawks' last two home openers have been wild. Two years ago they had a 10-goal explosion against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Last year Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews had a celebration-off in a 14-goal outburst.

It would have been hard to top for the third year in a row, right? Well, it got close. 

The Blackhawks and Sharks combined for nine goals, with the home team taking four leads and the visiting team overcoming each of them to win their first game of the season after an 0-4-0 start. It was the first time all season that San Jose took the lead in a game and Thursday was its fifth of the season.

"We're not happy with how the game ended," Andrew Shaw said. "We did a lot of things right during the game, we just didn't do it all the time. We took some shifts off and ended up shooting ourselves in the foot with them."

2. Penalty kill struggles continue

The Blackhawks' penalty kill struggles have been well-documented. They were the 31st-ranked unit last season and had the worst percentage in 30 years.

And it hasn't gotten any better through two games.

The Blackhawks allowed two power-play goals in the first period, the first of which came nine seconds in. They finished the game 1-for-3 and are now 3-for-6 on the season for a success rate of 50 percent.

"They did a good job in 5-on-5 too of getting pucks to the net," Colliton said. "Getting pucks into the blue paint and finding those rebounds, getting their sticks on pucks and that's what they do. They're very good at it, they've been good at it a long time. They send it in there and they get pucks through from the top and they make sure they have people at the net and they win those battles.

"We needed to be better in that area. You know what, on another day you get a bounce and the puck stays out in a couple situations. But some days you don't get the bounces and we want to win anyway."

3. Decision to break up third line backfires

The best line of the game, no question, was the Blackhawks' third line of David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad. In the first period alone, the trio had 14 shot attempts for and two against, 10 scoring chances for and one against, and eight high-danger chances for and zero against at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick. It also teamed up for a goal, which was Kubalik's first in the NHL.

But that was the last we saw of it.

Kubalik was rewarded for his strong first period in which he scored and recorded six shots on goal by being promoted to the top line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but the decision backfired as the Kubalik-Toews-Kane line generated only two shot attempts for and 12 against in 7:30 of 5-on-5 time together. 

"We're trying to get that other line going, Toews and Kane," Colliton said. "And so we thought he was the one who was really ... he was dynamic. I thought he was great, especially early on. We had a lot of momentum with the other line, too. I thought they were excellent, both Kampf and Saad. They were playing well. We'll see, that will be something we consider over the next day or so."

4. Welcome back, 65

The loudest ovation of the night came during introductions when Shaw was announced on the ice. Perhaps the second-loudest came when he scored in his first game back at the United Center in a Blackhawks sweater. And then again in the second period. 

The Mutt did what The Mutt always does, and that's park himself in front of the net and clean up his own rebound for his first goal of the season. His second goal came off a nice feed from Alex DeBrincat, who forced a turnover on two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.

This is exactly what the Blackhawks had hoped for when they reacquired Shaw, who does the dirty work and brings some bite to the lineup.

"That's part of the reason we were so excited to get him," Colliton said. "He makes a lot of things happen. He goes to the dirty areas. He finishes his checks and gets on the forecheck. He creates loose pucks, wins puck battles, goes to the net and gets into the goalie's eyes. In this game, you get rewarded for that. We're a better team for that."

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Blackhawks hit new low after epic collapse in St. Louis

USA Today

Blackhawks hit new low after epic collapse in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks needed something to feel good about going into a Central Division showdown against the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. A solid 60-minute effort would've sufficed, but a win would've trumped all, no matter how they got it. Two points translates into confidence and confidence turns into belief.

Well, both the Blackhawks' confidence and belief are starting to run thin after hitting a new low in Saturday's 4-3 loss.

For the second time in 10 days, the Blackhawks squandered a three-goal lead in the third period by giving up four unanswered goals in a span of 13:16 to a Blues team that, quite frankly, dominated the entire game. The Blues led in shot attempts (65-40), shots on goal (38-22), even-strength scoring chances (34-13) and even-strength high-danger chances (14-2), according to Natural Stat Trick, but couldn't crack a red-hot Corey Crawford until the third period. 

It was an epic collapse for the Blackhawks, who lost their fourth in a row and for the 10th time in 13 games. And there are no words to describe it.

"It shows where we're at," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We're not good enough in those situations. All we can do is continue to talk about and show the team and work together to make it better. That's the only way it gets better. We recognize the problem. We've got to find a way to take a step. I think we have taken steps at times, but it's not consistent enough."

The Blackhawks are a fragile team right now and you could see it in their body language from the opening faceoff, almost as if they're starting the game already down a couple goals. Can you remember the last time they opened a game by dictating the terms?

In dark times like these, your best players have to step up and take control and they did that on Saturday.

Brandon Saad scored twice, Jonathan Toews registered two primary assists, Patrick Kane ended a six-game goal drought and Crawford stopped the first 32 shots he faced before the Blues' third-period onslaught. And yet it still wasn’t enough.

Brent Seabrook and Toews — two members of the Blackhawks’ leadership group — were sitting at their stalls after the game awaiting the media and made no excuses. They accepted responsibility and acknowledged being in this position is unacceptable.

"Being out there in those situations, you got to take pride in it," Seabrook said. "I know I take a lot of pride in it. ... I know I'm on there for two [goals], the second and third one. It's a critical part of the game and I've got to be better in those moments."

"That sucks to blow that one with the lead that we had," Toews said. "But there's situations where we've got to get pucks out and I lost my check a few times."

So what now? Where do the Blackhawks go from here? Will it get worse before it gets better? 

Is the season even salvageable?

"Why not? One game at a time," Toews said. "We had a rough week. ... It's easy to look at the storyline and get really discouraged and come up with the wrong mentality in your mind about what can happen going forward, but it's the wrong way to go about it. We've just got to focus on tomorrow night and build off the things we keep doing well. Each guy has to look at himself and try to find ways to bring more out of himself every night."

The Blackhawks have been searching for answers all season and they’re not getting any closer to finding a solution. They’re getting further away from it.

A drastic change might be necessary, but the frustration stems from the Blackhawks knowing what the problem is on the ice and still not doing anything about it.

"We need to, when the game's on the line, buckle down, stop and start, make the right read,” Colliton said. “I know they know and I know we as a group know what we have to do to have success and it's just a matter of doing it."

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 4-3 against Blues

USA Today

3 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 4-3 against Blues

The Blackhawks lost 4-3 to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. Here are three takeaways: 

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead 

After Patrick Kane's beautiful stick-side snipe at 4:16 of the third period, the last place Hawks led the defending Stanley Cup champs 3-0 in St. Louis. It was going to be a huge moral victory for Chicago, who had lost three straight games and been outscored 10-3 in their past two. 

Twenty four seconds later, Tyler Bozak scored the first of four unanswered Blues' goals to give St. Louis their first lead of the game, and the final score in regulation, 4-3.

"Sucks to blow that one with the lead that we had, but there's situations where we've got to get pucks out, and I lost my check a few times," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after the game. "Those guys can make plays when you turn the puck over and you lose your check, so just got to keep going back to the drawing board."

Alex Nylander turned the puck over in Chicago's D zone to Robert Thomas near the high slot, who gave the puck to Bozak for the Blues' first goal of the game which sprung three more. 

“If we benched every player who made a mistake, we wouldn’t have any players," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said after being asked if he thought about benching Nylander after the mishap.

Shot suppression has to happen

As they've done a lot this season, the Hawks allowed the opposition way too many shots on their net. The Blues were able to pepper Corey Crawford with 38. 

"I thought we had a good start to the third, obviously," Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Crow was huge for us all night, really kept us in the game the whole game and I think we let him down."

Crawford and Robin Lehner have been leaned on too much this season by a struggling defense who's definitely missed Calvin de Haan (right shoulder) and Duncan Keith (groin) the past few games. Even before the pair's injuries, the netminders facing around 40 shots was happening too frequently. 

"We all take responsibility," Colliton said. "With the coaches, we have to find a way to prepare these guys better so that they can execute those types of reads when the game's on the line. So, that's it."

Colliton also said Keith began skating in Chicago. There's no set timetable for his return, but it should be sooner rather than later now. 

Saad doubles down

Forward Brandon Saad scored his ninth and tenth goals of the season in St. Louis on Saturday. His first goal came 19 seconds into the first period, assisted by Toews.

Saad's second goal of the game came 30 seconds into the third period. Toews used his body to maintain possession on the boards and feed Saad the puck in front of the net for his second helper. 

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