Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Blackhawks running out of time after deflating loss to Kings

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Blackhawks running out of time after deflating loss to Kings

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.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks lose ground in wildcard race with regulation loss to Avalanche

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks lose ground in wildcard race with regulation loss to Avalanche

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Saturday:

1. Losing ground

It's been well-documented much this weekend means for the Blackhawks. It could basically make or break their playoff chances with exactly two weeks left. They even got a break when they found out during warmups that Colorado's second-leading point getter Mikko Rantanen would miss the game due to an undisclosed injury, joining captain Gabriel Landeskog on the sidelines.

But the Avalanche seemed to elevate their intensity because of it. Just like their last meeting against Colorado, the Blackhawks failed to hold a lead at any point in the game and were forced to play catch-up in the third period when they fell behind two goals.

With the regulation loss, the Blackhawks fell six points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference with only a game in hand. It didn't help that Arizona picked up a point, either. Time is running out.

2. Lack of power play success reason for offensive drought

The power play was one of the main reasons why the Blackhawks turned their season around at the end of December. It was converting at a 40 percent clip for months. Obviously, that was going to be unsustainable over the course of a full season.

But it has completely dried up over the last several weeks, and it's the primary reason why the offense hasn't been firing on all cylinders as of late.

The Blackhawks had three power-play opportunities against Colorado. They recorded 12 shot attempts, six shots on goal and generated four scoring chances but couldn't find the back of the net. They're now 1-for-25 on the power play in their last 11 games. The 5-on-5 success is there, but the 5-on-4 isn't.

The Blackhawks have scored only seven goals in their past four games, which comes out to 1.75 per game. That's not going to cut it.

3. Not taking advantage of defensive improvement

It really is a shame that the Blackhawks are hitting a scoring drought at the worst possible time. Because there's noticeably been a defensive improvement over the last week. It's their best stretch in a while.

Over the last three games, the Blackhawks have allowed 20 total high-danger chances at 5-on-5, according to naturalstattrick.com, for an average of 6.7 per game. They had given up double-digit high-danger chances in 13 of their previous 17 games, including consecutive games where they allowed 20 to Montreal and 15 to Toronto.

Their season average in that department before Monday was 11.5. So they've shaved off nearly five full high quality scoring chances per game in this mini stretch. That's a huge improvement. But they haven't had much to show for it, recording one out of a possible six points.

4. Turning the page fast

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, they won't have too much time to sulk on this regulation loss. The two Central Division foes will go right back at it on Sunday night at the United Center. And that's truly a must-win game for the Blackhawks. It's why they should start Corey Crawford on back-to-back days for the first time since November 2017.

Another regulation loss would put the Blackhawks eight points back with seven games left, and it would only be a matter of time before they're mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

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'It can go one of two ways': Blackhawks mindset going into home-and-home series with Avalanche

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USA TODAY

'It can go one of two ways': Blackhawks mindset going into home-and-home series with Avalanche

The last time the Blackhawks and Avalanche met, it was viewed as the most important regular season game to date for the Blackhawks because it was a chance to finally pull inside the playoff picture and push the Avalanche out of it. That was Feb. 22.

Fast forward one month and the Blackhawks are approaching a home-and-home weekend series with the Avalanche, who are currently sitting in the second wildcard spot with 78 points. The Blackhawks are at 74 with a game in hand. They have an opportunity to make things real interesting with exactly two weeks left in the season.

“It can go one of two ways,” Jonathan Toews said. “So obviously we want to play our best hockey and make sure we’re in control of who gets the points in these next two.”

The Blackhawks were encouraged with how they played in that Feb. 22 against Colorado. They led in shot attempts (73-47), shots on goal (44-31), scoring chances (40-23) and high-danger chances (20-13), according to naturalstattrick.com, except the category that mattered most and that's the scoreboard (5-3 loss).

"It's one of our better efforts of the year," coach Jeremy Colliton said after the game. "Sometimes the results don't go your way, but the challenge is to reproduce [at] that level and I think if we do, we'll get our fair share of points."

The Blackhawks are hoping a similar performance will lead to the desire result this time around. These are a pair of four-point swings that mean so much at this time of year. Colliton even acknowledged on Friday that Corey Crawford could start in both games, which would be his first back-to-back action since Nov. 4 and 5 in 2017.

The Avalanche have won three in a row, and have outscored their opponents 9-2 in that span. They're coming in hot. The Blackhawks have scored only five goals in their past three games, so they're looking to end that offensive dry spell.

The good news? The Blackhawks are 8-3-0 in their last 11 road games and have a plus-6 goal differential over that stretch. They clearly have been feeling more comfortable on the road as of late. And maybe it'll help set the tone in an all-important series.

"We’re OK with a track meet, but on our terms," Colliton said. "We want to be the one with the puck and catching them before they’re ready to defend. But they’ve got some good players and we’ve gotta be aware of them when they’re on the ice and try to keep the puck out of their hands. Hopefully — we’re coming off a loss and we know the stakes here — we’ll be really good tomorrow.”

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