NEWARK, N.J. — The Blackhawks weren’t happy with how they responded to their 5-2 first-period lead to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. Their finish wasn’t there.
On Friday their start wasn’t there, either.
Patrick Kane scored his ninth goal of the season and Tanner Kero scored his first career NHL goal, but it was an otherwise forgettable 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils. It was another rough road outing for the Blackhawks, who are now 1-5-0 away from the United Center this early season.
Artem Anisimov suffered a lower-body injury in the second period and did not return. Coach Joel Quenneville said Anisimov’s injury wasn’t serious, and the center could play Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers. The Blackhawks were already without Duncan Keith (right knee), who’s still out a few more weeks, and Marian Hossa (lower body), who could also return on Sunday.
The Blackhawks weren’t using injuries as excuses; they’ve been through that before and always found ways. But on Friday it was rough from the beginning, as bad plays and bad passes put the Blackhawks in an early hole from which they couldn’t recover.
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“You could tell prior to them scoring there were holes everywhere,” Quenneville said of the Blackhawks. “We were sleepy in the first period and down 3-0; (we) created that gigantic hole and tried to get back into it.”
An errant Niklas Hjalmarsson pass led to the Devils’ first goal, with Lee Stempniak scoring for a 1-0 lead just 3:48 into the game.
“I obviously started with a really bad play, first period there, and it gave us an uphill battle. And we just have to find a way to get better on the road,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s been, I think, five in a row now we’ve lost on the road, so we’re playing decent at home but we have to find a way to play better on the road.”
Corey Crawford allowed two more goals in the first — to Kyle Palmieri off the faceoff and to Travis Zajac 26 seconds later — before getting pulled in favor of Scott Darling to start the second. Crawford, who got off to a great start this season, has now allowed nine goals in the last four-plus periods, including overtime against St. Louis. The Blackhawks have now allowed 20 goals in their last five games, a surprising number for the normally defense-first team.
“The last stretch of games here, we need defense and goaltending to be better,” Quenneville said.
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Jonathan Toews got into a fight with Adam Henrique in the first period. Considering how the Blackhawks were playing at the time, it seemed like it was a move Toews was using to spark his teammates.
“Not necessarily,” Toews said. “I think it was just a play that developed where both players got a little worked up there; kind of a reaction thing. Usually it’s not necessarily my thing, as we all know, to try and spark the team that way. I’d rather be on the ice making things happen in the offensive zone. It’s one of those things that happens, I guess.”
What’s happening right now with the Blackhawks is a departure from the last few seasons. They’ve giving up quite a bit, and the road, where they’ve usually been so strong in the past, has been rough. It’s still early, and the Blackhawks went on a winning streak last November after a so-so start. But the Blackhawks know they have to be a lot better than they’ve been in recent outings.
“It takes a while for us to panic. We’ve been around for a long time, a lot of guys in here. There’s no panic at all,” Hjalmarsson said. “But the league is so even nowadays ... we can’t get too far behind. We have to find a way to get points in pretty much every single game. The league is so good nowadays. We have to find a way quick.”