NASHVILLE – Jonathan Toews was fighting. The penalty kill wasn’t killing.
And while the Blackhawks felt better about their third period, for their second consecutive game they were losing.
P.K. Subban scored his first goal with his new team, one of three power-play goals the Blackhawks gave up for the second consecutive game in their 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday night. It was another frustrating night for the Blackhawks, who get to face the Predators again on Saturday.
Marcus Kruger scored his first goal of the season as did Niklas Hjalmarsson, who returned after completing his three-game suspension.
The Blackhawks’ forward depth looks to have taken another hit, too. Ryan Hartman, who suffered a lower-body injury first period and did not return, could “miss some time,” according to coach Joel Quenneville. On replays it appeared Hartman got hurt during a scrum in front of the net, then may have been hurt again when he blocked a Subban shot. Quenneville said he’ll know more on Saturday but said Hartman will miss “probably more than a couple of games.”
The penalty kill, meanwhile, continues to be a baffling issue. In their first two games, the Blackhawks’ former bread and butter has been their biggest liability as they’ve allowed opponents six power-play goals.
“Yeah it was definitely the gaping hole in our game,” said Toews, who fought James Neal in the first period out of frustration after taking Neal’s stick to his face. “Across the board we had a much better effort and even if we do get the penalty kills that we didn’t get tonight, it still takes a lot of energy out of your game. So we have to smarten up and find ways to stay out of the box and we’ll go from there.”
Indeed, the Blackhawks have been taking a lot of infractions and their veteran players have spent a bulk of the time in the penalty box. Still, the Blackhawks have long been a good penalty-killing team. What’s happening now is very unusual.
“Last game they were going in from [one] side tonight it was through the middle,” queneville said. “Whether we didn’t front properly or they had traffic at the net, certainly we have to have better discipline and stay out of the box as well. We still could’ve had some offense that could’ve got us back in there to get an equalizer but we didn’t generate enough.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
The Blackhawks looked better in the third period and got one last power-play opportunity with 1:46 remaining in regulation. But even after pulling Corey Crawford and going 6-on-4, the Blackhawks couldn’t find the equalizer.
“We had some looks, some chances, but obviously wasn’t good enough. I had some chances where I have to hit the net,” Duncan Keith said. “We had the pressure on and we had the chances but we just didn’t get it.”
The Blackhawks pointed to the third period and their 5-on-5 play as improvements over Game 1. But the penalty killing problems have been in both games now; that and the discipline have to get better fast.
“Obviously we need to take baby steps there. But if we rectify our penalty kill, it’ll make a big difference for us,” Toews said. “When you come up with some big penalty kills and everyone’s playing hard and we get a couple blocked shots, it helps your team, it gives you energy. And tonight we didn’t do what we had to do there.”