Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Saturday:
1. A forgettable start
The Blackhawks couldn't have started any worse against a Kings team that went into Saturday's game on a 10-game losing streak (0-6-4). In the first five minutes, the Blackhawks committed two minor penalties and the Kings made them pay both times.
The Kings finished the opening frame with three goals; they had only 38 first-period goals on the season going into the game, which ranked second-fewest in the NHL. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have now given up 89 goals in the first period. No other team has allowed more than 73. That's an area they've been trying to get better at all season long but haven't been able to fix.
2. Sloppy defensive effort
This was one of the sloppiest games in recent memory for the Blackhawks. It was hard to count the number of times they were outworked in their own end and passes were off target, whether it was exiting their own zone or cycling in the offensive zone, several of which prevented several scoring chances.
Part of that is lack of focus. Another is lack of execution. It appeared to be both in this game. And that's inexcusable in a game where you're fighting for your playoff lives against one of the worst scoring and defensive teams in the NHL.
3. Secondary scoring wasted
The Blackhawks found the back of the net three times, and it was their depth players that covered the scoresheet.
Brendan Perlini had his fifth career multi-goal effort and first as a member of the Blackhawks, with Connor Murphy potting the third goal for his third of the season. The assists? Slater Koekkoek, Dylan Strome, Corey Crawford, Chris Kunitz and John Hayden.
The Blackhawks' top horses were silenced. Patrick Kane has been held pointless in two of his past three games after going 20 straight recording at least one point. Jonathan Toews had his seven-game point streak snapped. And Alex DeBrincat and Brandon Saad were limited to a combined three shots on goal.
4. Running out of time
Things can change quickly in the Western Conference, but the Blackhawks' margin for error is just about at zero. The trade deadline has passed, playoff contenders have loaded up and the calendar has flipped to March. The dogs days of the season are over. The Blackhawks will be getting everyone's best effort from here on out, and it doesn't matter who they play.
It's fair to wonder whether coming up empty last weekend against Colorado and Dallas was the turning point considering they played well in both of those games but didn't get the outcome they deserved. They fought so hard to get there and then saw it slip away in the blink of an eye.
The Blackhawks bounced back with a win in Anaheim, but didn't play nearly their best. They stole a regulation victory. They couldn't do the same in Los Angeles, and time is running out.
Effort has not been a major concern for the Blackhawks this season. For the most part it's been there, and you could see it over the last two months when they started to string together a run.
But Wednesday, it was.
The Blackhawks didn't have a great first period. They had a decent second. Things went off the rails in the third.
The Blackhawks lost focus, and the compete level wasn't nearly where it needed to be in their first home game in exactly two weeks after giving up five third-period goals, four of which came in a span of 7:08.
"Makes you angry," head coach Jeremy Colliton said following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers. "Because it's a game that you're looking for like, we needed this game. We didn't do the things right from the start to put ourselves in the best position to win. We just didn't have enough guys ready to play."
The Blackhawks picked up two out of a possible 10 points on their five-game road trip in Western Canada, but that wasn't necessarily indicative of how they played. All five games were there for the taking but they squandered opportunities to do so. A power-play goal here or there could've been the difference, but instead their drought is now up to 0-for-17 in their past six games.
It was a tough road trip for the Blackhawks, not just because they didn't get the desired results, but because it was a demanding travel schedule that started and ended in Winnipeg. But they wouldn't use that as an excuse even though it's a valid one at this time of year.
"To me, the story of the game tonight is, you're going to have games throughout the year where you don't have energy, where it's hard to find," Jonathan Toews said. "You've got to find the motivation to go out there and play your best game. It's just a mental thing that you have to do and that's just the name of the game, playing NHL hockey. That's one of the challenging things that if you want to make the playoffs and you want to be a winning team you're not going to feel at your best every night.
"There's going to be tough travel, tough schedule, a lot of adversity, things that pile up in your way and you've got to find a way to overcome it. So we didn't do that tonight."
With Wednesday's loss, the Blackhawks fell to 1-5-2 in their past eight games after going 12-5-0 in their previous 17. They remain eight points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference but have four teams to jump, two of which have a game in hand.
Playoffs seem like a pipedream at this point, and you have to wonder how this latest spiral could impact the Blackhawks' plans ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline. It's always a challenging time of year for players, especially on teams on the outside looking in, but that doesn't mean it's time to wave the white flag.
"We have to think really short-term," Colliton said. "And that's tomorrow, how are we going to prepare? Because we didn't prepare well enough. The coaches have to do a better job of preparing the team, the team needs to do a better job of preparing each other, and individually they've got to do a better job of preparing themselves to play."
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