There’s no easy way to say it. It packs a wallop and is plenty damning. But Patrick Kane is tired of this strange new normal for the Blackhawks, who don’t seem to recognize one another until they’re staring at yet another early deficit on the scoreboard.
“I think it just comes down to, simply, not being ready to play,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”
If a professional athlete has one job, it’s to be prepared and fully alert — frothing at the mouth doesn’t hurt — when game time comes around. The Hawks, losers of 16 of 19 after Wednesday’s 4-2 loss in Anaheim, have been gallingly lacking in that regard.
Kane doesn’t pretend he hasn’t been part of the problem.
“It seems like we’re starting these games and waiting to see what’s going to happen, and kind of feel it out a little bit and then kind of go from there, and it’s just putting us behind the 8-ball,” he said. “You’ve seen these past whatever number of games — we’re down and it’s tough to come back in this league. Teams can ‘D’ it up pretty good.
“It’s been a common thread, definitely a talking point in here, and we want to try to figure it out. But it all comes down to just being ready to play and making sure we’re dictating the pace right away instead of waiting around for the other team.”
Precisely a month into new coach Jeremy Colliton’s time with the team, the Hawks’ performance has been riddled with “Ls” in the standings, frightening statistical trends, frustrated looks and awkward silences. Players are trying to remain positive, but their resolve is being tested. Colliton is recalibrating individual roles and overall expectations, but thus far with few, if any, obvious signs of progress.
The pace? Snails would be ashamed by it. Waiting around? Yeah, that’s not working.
“I thought we got some energy from [Colliton], especially at the start,” Kane said. “It seemed like things were going to turn around. We were playing a better game. And then lately, it’s like we can’t even play our game because we’re chasing the game every time. It’s tough to get a feel on it right now.”
As the losses have mounted, so have the grim faces, pained expressions and 1,000-yard stares in the Hawks locker room after games. The roster may have holes in it, but the gnarly recurrence of self-fulfilling prophecy has become equally challenging. It seems the more the Hawks talk and think about starting games better and reversing other execrable trends — the league’s worst power play springs to mind — the harder such things are to do.
And through it all, Colliton’s sizable appetite for experimentation up and down the lineup may or may not be bearing fruit. Is Kane on David Kampf’s line? Dylan Strome’s? Will he ride again with Jonathan Toews? The changes don’t seem to be helping Kane, who scored a goal in Colliton’s debut but has a lone goal in 13 games since. (He does have nine assists over that span.) His shots on goal have declined dramatically.
“We’re looking for the right formula,” Colliton said. “[Kane has] always been a guy who has moved around a little bit. It would be nice to get some continuity — and certainly he has continued to produce — but you want him to be able to do more, and I think he can do more.”
It’s hardly an unprecedented cold streak for Kane. He went 11 straight games without a goal in the 2013-14 season, and nine straight games two seasons ago. In the ill-fated 2017-18 campaign, he had only one goal during a stretch of 11 losses in 13 games as the Hawks spun out of playoff contention.
This isn’t necessarily any worse than those, but it’s troubling Kane at a time when the Hawks could use nothing more than another scoring flurry from a star who opened the season with 11 goals and 18 points in a dozen October games.
“It’s been pretty frustrating,” he said. “I’m just trying to figure that out, trying to learn from what [I] can do better, but also going into every game kind of like a new challenge. Wipe the slate clean, and try to be better that night.
“But we’ve been losing here a little bit, and then, when you’re not producing, it definitely weighs on you.”
So what to do? How to get out of it? The solution for Kane is the same as the one for his victory-starved team.
“It would be nice to get to that point to stop thinking here and just play,” he said.