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Niklas Hjalmarsson: Road trip a chance to hit ‘re-start’ button

Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk battles Stars forward Valeri Nichushkin in front of goalie Scott Darling in the Stars' 6-2 victory Tuesday night at the United Center. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

“Road trip.”

The Blackhawks are trying to work their way out of a funk after an “embarrassing” 6-2 loss to the Dallas Stars — their sixth loss in seven games (1-4-2). And the upcoming four-game western road trip to Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Minnesota could be just what they need, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said.

Since acquiring forwards Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff near the trade deadline, the Hawks are 4-5-2.

“I think a road trip is a good way to get the so-called “new group” together,” Hjalmarsson said. “We’ve got a couple of new guys. It’s a good way to get the group together and go on a Canadian road trip. I think it’ll be a good way for us to kind of press the re-start button and try to find our way back to our game and the way we know we can play.”

The Hawks often have thrived on their western swings in recent years under Joel Quenneville. And while this eight-day trip isn’t quite as long as some of the “circus” and “ice show” trips, it’s still a road trip. Regardless, Hjalmarsson knows the Hawks have to find their winning groove.

Like teammates Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews after Tuesday night’s game, Hjalmarsson did not blame the Hawks’ current plight on fatigue — Hjalmarsson has played more regular-season/playoff games (348) in the last four seasons than any player in hockey.

“I personally feel all right,” Hjalmarsson said. “I just think our compete level hasn’t been there. There’s no excuse for that. It doesn’t really matter if you’re tired mentally or physically, you could still compete hard every night — and that goes for myself and my teammates and [it’s] something that we have to do much better.

“The compete level just hasn’t been there the last week. It’s a little embarrassing the way we’ve played here — especially at home in front of our crowd.”

Quenneville had his team come to the United Center for a film session and meeting Wednesday — seen as a sign of his displeasure with the recent downturn.

“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,” Quenneville said. “Whether we’re angry or how we want to channel it … let’s make sure that [it’s] not acceptable.”

Quenneville seemed to indicate that while the team has struggled before late in the regular season, he felt he needed to get his players’ attention with the Hawks just four points ahead of the Nashville Predators for the No. 3 spot in Western Conference playoffs. The Predators also have a game in hand.

“We’ve lost a ton of ground, important games and every meaningful four-point games — back-to-back Dallas games [losing 6-2 and 5-2] we didn’t really give ourselves a chance to get any points. So it was a situation — whether it was getting [their] attention, the awareness, the situation we’re in right now — the urgency’s got to be picked up here and it’s across the board.”

Whether or not it was a message sent, the Hawks feel an even greater sense of urgency with eight regular-season games left.

“We have to assess our game and we have to correct things,” forward Andrew Desjardins said. “That’s the main goal [Wednesday] was just to look at our game and really stress on things that we have to do better.”

Such as?

“A lot of it’s puck battles, being on the right side of pucks. I think it comes down to a lot with not as much systems, but individual puck battles — one-on-one battles [where] the puck’s going through us too easy. Just a little bit more grind in those areas.”

Still, a lot of that goes back to the issue of fatigue — mental and physical. The Hawks are not as focused as they usually are and their puck-possession game suffers. When that suffers, the overall game struggles.

“I don’t know if it’s all mental,” Desjardins said. “It’s just being prepared and ready to battle every night. We’ve just got to refocus and let’s not try to think too much about the past and concentrate on the next eight games.”

While the Hawks’ recent slump appears more dire than in previous seasons, Hjalmarsson was looking at the bright side.

“This is the biggest [slump] we’ve had this year,” he said. “We always have to go through these parts of the season. Every team pretty much has had a stretch like this.

“You obviously don’t want to [go through it]. But once you find your way out of it, I think you get close as a team and stronger as a team. The road trip comes at a great time for us to get together and go away for a little bit and play on the road and try to find our way back.”