PITTSBURGH — The two words Blackhawks President/GM Stan Bowman used to describe his feeling going into Wednesday's season opener were "excited" and "optimistic." Everyone inside the organization, from players to coaches, and even a majority of the fanbase shared similar sentiments going into the 2021-22 campaign.
Three games in, however, and things have gone sideways in a hurry.
After allowing three goals in the first 10 minutes against Colorado on Wednesday and a goal 17 seconds into the game against New Jersey on Friday, the Blackhawks gave up four first-period goals in Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in what was another disastrous start.
The game snowballed so quickly that it forced head coach Jeremy Colliton to make a rare goaltending change before the second TV timeout rolled around. It left a bitter taste in the Blackhawks' mouth to see Marc-Andre Fleury get yanked early in his return to Pittsburgh because his team wasn't ready for the third straight game.
"Poor Flower," Connor Murphy said. "The guy’s an All-Star and we just leave him two of those games with those great opportunities right off the bat. He deserves a lot better from us."
"We feel bad leaving Flower out to dry, especially him coming back to Pittsburgh," Patrick Kane echoed. "To perform like that in front of him in the first period is unacceptable."
It was fitting the first period was cut short because of a glass delay behind Chicago's net, because the period couldn't have ended soon enough for the Blackhawks, who had only three shots on goal through 20 minutes.
"Certainly not the start we wanted," Colliton said. "Ultimately, again, can't dig yourself a hole that deep and expect you're going to be able to come back. This group has a much better level than we've shown, at least the consistency of our performance from shift to shift, we can be much better. We know that, and we're going to need it."
The Blackhawks have quickly fallen into a 0-2-1 hole to start the season, and although it's too early to hit the panic button, you couldn't have imagined a worse start, given the expectations. And now, not only have they found themselves playing catch-up in games, but they're trying to play catch-up in the Western Conference.
According to The Athletic's Arpon Basu, only four teams have made the playoffs over the last five seasons after failing to pick up a win in their first three games. Two of those teams were Minnesota and Chicago, both of which advanced because of the expanded postseason in 2020.
"t's not easy in this league to play catch-up," Kane said. "We obviously have to be better. There needs to be some urgency to get in the win column and play better and have better starts. For us, I think we're a good enough team, well-enough coached to get out from underneath this and turn it around."
The urgency is building for the Blackhawks to right the ship before things spiral out of control, which is crazy to think considering they haven't even played a home game yet. The confidence within this group appears to be there but we haven't even seen a glimpse yet of what the potential of this Blackhawks team could be because they're not giving themselves a chance to show us yet with the poor starts.
"Once you lose a couple and now it's three in a row, it's all of a sudden like you want to get to the next game and try to make sure you get a win the next game," Kane said. "I think we've been thinking about that the last two games as well. I don't want to say the pressure's building, but I think if we relax, play our game, look at the team we have in there — we have a lot better team than we've had in the past couple years — we should have a lot of success."