From Jonathan Toews to Patrick Kane to Joel Quenneville, the entire Blackhawks leadership group has spent much of the last month preaching “consistency.” That theme came up a bunch of times after the team’s first practice out of the bye week Friday.
“We need to have a more consistent effort,” Toews said.
“Just got to put it together for a consistent stretch here,” Kane said.
“We have to find a way to be consistently better,” Quenneville said.
RELATED STORIES Anthony Duclair on top line Anisimov out against Islanders
Well, the Hawks have been quite consistent the last two games. They were awful going into the break in a loss to the Red Wings. And they were awful coming out of the break in a 7-3 loss to the Islanders on Saturday. Now they find themselves in an awful spot, dead last in the Central Division, flailing while just about everybody else is surging, including the Avalanche, who have won nine straight to take a five-point lead over the Hawks in the race for the second wild card.
Oh, and the league-leading Lightning are coming to town Monday.
“I think it’s almost like maybe we’re thinking too much about it, to be honest with you,” Kane said after the game. “If we just focus on one game at a time and the next shift rather than the big picture, we’ll probably have better success that way.”
Kane had two goals and an assist to become the fifth player in team history to post 800 career points, but like his 300th goal earlier in the year, it came in a losing effort.
Other than Kane and Erik Gustafsson (a goal and an assist in his first NHL game since 2015-16), the Hawks were overwhelmed by the Islanders, yielding 19 shots in the first period and 46 overall. Anton Forsberg struggled mightily with rebound control, and — as usual — he got very little help from his teammates. The Hawks’ inability to clear opposing forwards out of their own goalmouth has been a defining problem all season, and Saturday was no exception.
The Hawks’ shutdown pairing of Jan Rutta (on the ice for six goals against, four at 5-on-5) and Gustav Forsling had a particularly “tough night,” in Quenneville’s words. And while Rutta’s one of the inexperienced guys who might be feeling the weight of that big picture Kane mentioned, he said he wasn’t looking at the standings.
“If you get scored on basically every shift, it’s hard, no matter what you’re looking at,” he said.
After a terrific first few minutes that included Kane’s goal off a Gustafsson feed 61 seconds into the game, the Hawks fell apart. The Islanders poured in four consecutive goals, all of them a result of forwards being unchallenged around the Hawks goalmouth. Gustafsson’s first career goal briefly gave the Hawks life late in the second, but they never got closer than two goals, as the Islanders chased Forsberg (five goals on 35 shots) and put two more past Jeff Glass. Defenseman Ryan Pulock had a goal and four assists; he had just nine points entering the game.
Kane pointed to impressive wins over the likes of the Jets and Rangers as cause for confidence. But these aren’t the Hawks of old, unflappable, never too high, never too low. The core is ever-dwindling, the goaltenders are both rookies, and most of the team hasn’t been through anything like this before.
And the cracks are showing.
“That’s some of our inconsistency,” Duncan Keith said. “When we’re consistent, it’s playing the right way no matter what happens to us. It’s something we’ve talked about. Time’s ticking here and we know that the urgency has to be there. It’s got to come in-game. We can sit here and talk all we want and say things, but it’s got to come down to us doing it in the game.”