The Blackhawks’ losses have piled up lately, their once seemingly secure place among the Central Division’s best now tenuous.
For Niklas Hjalmarsson, the reason for recent issues wasn’t difficult to figure out.
“I just think the competitiveness hasn’t really been there the last couple of games, and there’s no real excuse for that,” Hjalmarsson said. “You can be tired physically and mentally but you can still go out there and battle hard. I just think we haven’t done that well enough, me included. I feel I have to be much better in my game, so I’m looking forward to the trip to get together with the team and try to find a way back here to get some more wins.”
The Blackhawks hope to take advantage of this current respite, rest and refocus before hitting the road and facing Calgary on Saturday night. It’s been a tough stretch, but the Blackhawks say they can come out of it.
“I think as individuals we all have to dig deep. That’s the only way to get out of situations like this. Whatever you have to do, process it in your own mind, just dig deep,” Andrew Desjardins said. “It comes down to puck battles, the rawness of the game. It goes back to the basics. A lot of it is just playing smart, playing hard and winning those puck battles. That’s what the key is here. We have to be a little pissed off, too, to be honest.”
The Blackhawks aren’t too happy that they’ve made up little ground in the Central, where they’re currently third. In fact their losses, coupled with fourth-place Nashville’s surge, means they’re close to losing ground.
Instead of practicing on Wednesday the Blackhawks had off-ice workouts and “met,” as coach Joel Quenneville put it.
“I don't think we can be happy with the way we’re going along here, so we want to make sure we rectify it,” he said. “Whether we’re angry or how we want to channel it, but let’s make sure that [this is] not good enough or not acceptable.”
The Blackhawks’ offense has been hit-and-miss lately but as Hjalmarsson pointed out, what’s happening on the other side is the bigger problem.
“As long as we play well defensively, which we haven’t done lately, we usually find a way to win games,” Hjalmarsson said. “We create [scoring] chances by playing good defense: counter attack and creating chances, breaking out plays defensively. We have to find a way to be better defensively and the offense will come automatically.”
That defense hasn’t been good lately. Overall this season, the Blackhawks have allowed 2.47 goals per game, which isn't bad at all. But in the 25 games since their franchise-record, 12-game winning streak, that number has increased to 2.96 goals per game. Part of that is defense and part of that is goaltending not being as strong as it was earlier this season. Corey Crawford, who’s been very good most of this season, struggled in recent starts before being sidelined with an upper-body injury.
The Blackhawks have time to turn things around before the postseason begins. They say they can come out of their doldrums by getting their competitiveness back. Perhaps the road rekindles that.
“You know it’s one of those things that’s up and down. Hopefully going on the road, guys will be together and spark something,” Desjardins said. “I mean it goes back to everybody having to focus a little bit more. We have to stop this and start winning, start playing the right way.”