It would be easy to look at the outcome, the 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, and assume the Blackhawks were the latest team to fall prey to the post-bye-week-lack-of-vigor factor.
But that wasn’t the case. The Blackhawks had the energy. They had the shots. They had the opportunities. They gave up little on the other end. It was, as Jonathan Toews called it, one that may have gone the Blackhawks’ way if they had had a “little more puck luck.”
Cam Talbot stopped 38 of 39 shots and Milan Lucic’s third-period goal proved to be the winner as the Edmonton Oilers beat the Blackhawks in the latter’s return to the United Center. The Blackhawks, who had a five-game winning streak prior to their bye week, now trail the Minnesota Wild by nine points. The Wild beat the Nashville Predators 5-2 on Saturday night.
The Blackhawks had great energy early, outshooting the Oilers 12-4. But from the start Talbot was sharp, denying the Blackhawks on one chance after another. Throw in two iron shots (Marian Hossa off the crossbar and Artemi Panarin off the post) and the Blackhawks just couldn’t manage much against Talbot.
The Oilers didn’t fare much better until after Ryan Hartman got into a fight with Eric Gryba – Gryba had hit Tanner Kero along the boards moments before that. Hartman was hit with an instigator, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. The Blackhawks missed having Hartman that period and the Oilers got the go-ahead goal on the ensuing power play. Matt Benning’s shot hit Corey Crawford, went off Trevor van Riemsdyk and past Crawford for a 1-0 lead.
Coach Joel Quenneville had no problem with Hartman’s fight.
“He’s a competitive guy. We like him to have that abrasiveness and unpredictability so there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “We like how he competes and what he brings us.”
Talbot finally gave one up late in the third period when Richard Panik scored his 15th of the season, late in the third period. The Blackhawks couldn’t do much more, however, with Connor McDavid getting the empty-net goal with 27 seconds remaining in regulation.
For Toews, there was no blaming the Blackhawks’ six-day break for this one.
“I can’t speak for what other teams felt like coming off the break. But we worked pretty hard today,” Toews said. “There’s no doubt, energy-wise, it’s hard. You have to find ways to keep your shifts short, play smart. When you’re off the ice for five days, sometimes you get a little rust you have to work out. For the most part we moved he puck well, we checked well, we kept that team away from doing what they wanted to do. We had the puck for the majority of the night.”
Quenneville liked the overall game and also said there was no bye-week issues. Still he thought the Blackhawks’ shot selection, especially around the net, could have been better.
“Whether it wasn’t the feel of it or didn’t sense the timing of it, anticipating the puck where it was, we missed a lot of opportunities that could’ve been high-quality chances that didn’t even get developed. And we did have some good chances,” he said. “Whether we didn’t elevate it or didn’t have the traffic or the patience or even the shot, our shots tonight were off.”
The Blackhawks were down 1-0 until midway through the second period when Lucic’s goal eluded Crawford. The Blackhawks’ goaltender wasn’t happy with that one.
“Just couldn’t find the net there and gave up a bad one. But it kind of had some momentum there at the end, too, and had some chances,” Crawford said. “Yeah, we played a good game. We created a lot and it was a lot better, I guess, than everyone thought it was going to be for us. You can’t ask for more than that."
Well, the Blackhawks could’ve used a victory because, despite all their great work on the road, they’re still trailing the Wild by a healthy margin. That, and they played well enough to have a better fate on Saturday night.
“We’re pretty happy with the effort, the 60-minute effort,” Toews said. “You’re always disappointed when you don’t get the result.”