Takeaways and observations: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead against Blues in Traverse City

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Takeaways and observations: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead against Blues in Traverse City

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Going into the final game of round-robin play, the Blackhawks were mathematically eliminated from having a chance at the first place game in the 2019 NHL Prospect Tournament. The third place game was the best they could've done, and they appeared to be heading in that direction.

But the Blackhawks squandered a 2-0 lead to fall to the St. Louis Blues 4-2 and the Detroit Red Wings rallied from 4-2 down to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-4, putting the Blackhawks in a position where they will play for seventh place against the Minnesota Wild at 11 a.m. CT on Tuesday.

Here are three takeaways and some observations from the loss:

1. Blackhawks surrender four unanswered goals

After giving up six goals to the Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Blackhawks really tightened up on defense on Monday against the Blues. At least to start. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and gave up only 10 shots on goal in the first two periods combined. But in the third period, it was all St. Louis.

The Blues outshot the Blackhawks 15-2 in the final 20 minutes and scored four unanswered goals, three of which came in the third period — one of them was an empty-netter. The Blackhawks offense dried up and had no answer for the Blues’ pushback.

"First period I thought we managed the puck well, we were winning the lines and then I don't know if we were just getting tired or the brain shut off and we thought we were gonna win the hockey game playing one period," Rockford IceHogs coach Derek King said. "St. Louis was coming hard. They just simplified their game and gots puck out, got pucks in and managed the puck better than we did."

2. No Adam Boqvist or Kirby Dach

With four games in five days, the Blackhawks held out top prospects Boqvist and Dach on Monday for rest. Training camp starts on Friday and because the first-place game was already out of reach, the team didn’t feel the need to play them.

“I wish we had them today,” King said with a smile. “But it’s good for them to sit out and watch.”

King said he expects both of them to play on Tuesday, but wouldn’t say for sure.

3. Brandon Hagel and Mikael Hakkarainen step up as possession drivers

Because Boqvist and Dach were both healthy scratches, the Blackhawks had to look for their offensive production elsewhere. Hagel and Hakkarainen were two players that took control in that department.

Hagel led the team with four shots on goal and served as the possession driver for the first line. But he may have run out of gas in the third period.

"He complements players,” King said. “It doesn't matter who he plays with, he plays the same way. I think he looked a little tired at the end of the game. He plays a lot, he plays hard minutes. It's not like he paces himself out there, which is a good thing, and I think he just got a little tired at the end. He got caught out a couple times with long shifts and they're hard to recover but I like the way he plays. He's a good hockey player and I like the way he works."

Hakkarainen finished with a goal, assist, +1 rating and three shots on goal. He played in a lot of different situations, including the first penalty kill unit and second power play unit.

"Yeah, I like opportunities,” Hakkarainen said. “I'm probably not the most skilled guy out there but I just work hard and see where it takes me."

Other observations:

— With Boqvist out, 2019 seventh-round pick Cole Moberg played on the top pairing with Dennis Gilbert and he held his own. He recorded a primary assist on Hakkarainen’s redirect goal and led the team with a +2 rating.

— Free-agent forward Sean Josling didn’t appear on the scoresheet but he’s a competitor. He’s someone who battles for position in front of the net, and he had some opportunities on both the power play and penalty kill.

— MacKenzie Entwistle was promoted to the first line in place of Dach and he wasn’t as effective. He’s better suited in a bottom-six role and playing that shutdown center role, not someone who will drive offense.

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Blackhawks not going to 'freak out' about 0-2-1 start

USA Today

Blackhawks not going to 'freak out' about 0-2-1 start

The Blackhawks wanted to get off to a strong start this season because they know how hard it is to climb out of a hole in the Central Division. Last season was proof of that.

Well, they've picked up only one out of a possible six points through three games and are one of three teams still searching for their first victory of the season. But they're not going into panic mode just yet.

"We know there's things we have to improve upon," Jonathan Toews said. "Jeremy [Colliton] always talks about doing the right thing and over time eventually you're going to get results. I don't know if we can say we're doing things the right things that we want to and we're playing complete games right now, so even having said that, midway through the San Jose game and even against Winnipeg we were in a position to take control of the game going into the third period and we let teams back in. So I think there's a lot of ways we can play better.

"But having said that we're in those games and giving ourselves a chance to win. Obviously that's not good enough, but we're not going to freak out and say, 'we've got to start winning games.' Of course that's the goal, we wanted to get two points the other night."

The quest to pick up their first two points of the season doesn't get any easier for the Blackhawks on Monday night. The Edmonton Oilers are coming to town with a 5-0-0 record, and they're clicking on all cylinders. They have the second-best power play unit (41.2 percent), second-best penalty kill percentage (94.1), the NHL's leading point-getter in Connor McDavid (12) and leading goal scorer in James Neal (seven).

The Blackhawks know at some point they have to start stringing together some wins, but they're not living and dying by the standings right now because everything looks out of proportion. They're focused on the process and putting together a full 60-minute effort.

"It's always magnified at the start of the year," Colliton said. "Your special teams, you got [teams] with 100 percent PK, you got [teams] with 40 percent power play, and all the little things they look way bigger than they are. Would be nice for us to get a win, get some positive feelings but any three-game window among the 82, it's not going to be looked upon as closely as this one.

"So again, we've just got to focus on playing hard, playing the game the right way, do the right thing time and time again and we'll get the results." 

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Corey Crawford to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Oilers

USA Today

Corey Crawford to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Oilers

Corey Crawford will start in goal for the Blackhawks when they take on the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night. He's 0-2-0 with a 4.63 goals-against average and .875 save percentage this season.

In 18 career appearances against the Oilers, Crawford is 9-7-0 with a 2.53 goals-against average, .909 save percentage and one shutout. 

The decision is a little surprising, given how well Lehner performed on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets and what his career numbers are against the Oilers. In eight starts vs. Edmonton, Lehner is 5-1-2 with a 1.86 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and one shutout.

"We're going to continue to ... both guys are going to get in," coach Jeremy Colliton said after Monday's morning skate. "They're both going to play. I'm not going to give you the road map, but today it's Crawford and we'll go from there."

The Blackhawks are seeking their first win of the season (0-2-1) against an Oilers team that's 5-0-0.

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