The Blackhawks took a frustrating step backward on Sunday after the Detroit Red Wings handed them their sixth straight loss to open the season. Chicago's former division rival did so in convincing fashion less than 24 hours after being routed by a winless Montreal team.
Because of the poor performance, the Blackhawks went back to the drawing board on Monday at Fifth Third Arena. But this wasn't an X's and O's type of practice. It was as close to a bag skate as it gets this early in the season.
A majority of practice included competition drills — 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 battles — and conditioning sprints, which had players huffing and puffing by the end of it.
After the 40-minute practice concluded, head coach Jeremy Colliton huddled up the group near center ice and said: "Everyone off the ice and come ready tomorrow." There was no lingering around or post-practice work, like normal. There was no Two Puck, which is a post-practice staple. Players got in a quick stretch, then went straight into the locker room.
"We'll see if we get the desired response on Wednesday," Colliton responded when asked whether he got the response he was looking for. "We covered a lot of ground, I would say, in the last week or whatever it’s been since we got back from the road trip, talked about a lot of things. I think we've had some response, but it's got to be consistent. It's got to be there every shift. And if we do that, then we'll give ourselves a chance."
The message was loud and clear for the Blackhawks, who have been outscored 27-12 through six games so far.
"I think it's just get back to work, focus on the details and support each other off the ice and on the ice," Kirby Dach said. "We’re going through a tough time as a group right now. It doesn’t help if you get negative about it and start pointing fingers. I think we’re going to turn this thing around here and get going. Today was a good step and we've just got keep looking at it day by day and not focus on the big picture."
The Blackhawks are a mentally fragile hockey team right now, and it's hard not to be when everything that can go wrong, has gone wrong.
Jonathan Toews admitted after Sunday's 6-3 loss that when bounces don't go their way, they're "letting it affect us a little bit too much."
"Sometimes that happens and little things, whether it’s calls or offensive breaks or even goals against, you get that sinking feeling in your stomach and your confidence gets chipped away a little bit," Toews said. "We just have to be mentally tougher and not get fazed. We have to make a decision as a group to be collectively stronger."
"I think that’s pretty accurate right now," Calvin de Haan agreed. "Obviously things aren’t going our way, but the sun’s going to rise tomorrow and we've got to try to come to the rink with a positive attitude. You have to have a short memory in this league. There's so many games and so many things happen throughout the season, whether good or bad. You've just got to put that stuff behind you, whether it's a good game or bad game and move on to the next one. "
It's still early in the season, but you have to imagine the patience is running thin to get back on track.
Over the last week, a couple of Blackhawks referenced the St. Louis Blues in 2019 as a team that was seemingly dead in the water around Christmas time and turned things around to win the Stanley Cup. It's not exactly the kind of script any team wants to follow, but there is the mentality that the season is still salvageable.
It just has to start, like ... now.
"I don't think the season’s ever slipping away," Dach said. "You can look at St. Louis in 2019, they were dead last in December and ended up winning the Cup. It’s a long year. Obviously the quicker we can turn it around the better it is for us. We got faith in the group and we know that the solution is going to come from that dressing room and that dressing room only, so that's the opportunity we were presented with and we're just going to focus on practice again tomorrow and the game again on Wednesday."