NEW YORK — Alex DeBrincat sat alone in the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden shortly after the Blackhawks’ fifth straight loss. He was expressionless as he waited to answer questions and get out of there.
DeBrincat arrived after all the fun of three championships, so this is all he has known in two years with the team. If it keeps going this way, surely he’ll grow numb to the disappointment.
That listless feeling is descending upon the Hawks again, reminiscent of their eight-game losing streaks in November and December. Coach Jeremy Colliton wants to believe they squashed some of those issues and won’t backslide, but they’ve won one game in 2019 and just dropped a pair to fellow stragglers in the Rangers and Devils.
“You can’t really compare this game to those games,” Colliton said after losing 4-3 in New York, rejecting the thought that the Hawks are reverting to their worst stretches of the season. “Just watch the game. I feel better about how we played. We competed, but it wasn’t enough.”
It wasn’t enough because the Hawks don’t have enough. They’ll be 50 games into the season when they host the reigning champion Capitals on Sunday, and they’re the worst team in the NHL. Even the optimists are on the verge of conceding.
There was a spark when the team went on a 6-2-1 run and put together a month or so of better results, but it has long faded.
In the last five games, the Hawks have gone 0-3-2, allowing a staggering average of 37.6 shots on goal. In the two eight-game skids, that number was 30.4.
“We’ve just gotta stop giving them chances off of our mistakes,” DeBrincat said. “We’ve gotta battle a full 60 minutes and not give up those Grade-A chances.”
The technical term for it is High Danger Scoring Chances Against, or HDCA. It’s an advanced statistic that rates opportunities by taking into account nearness to the net, whether there’s a rush advantage or rebound and other factors.
Suffice it to say, HDCA is a really bad category in which to lead the league. The Hawks do, of course, and they’ve allowed 61 in the last five games, according to Natural Stat Trick. Twelve of those ended up in the net.
Of their five consecutive losses, falling 8-5 to the Devils was the only outright embarrassment. The others were 4-3 defeats, including the Hawks squandering early leads in three of them, and Colliton thought the overall play was better than the outcomes.
“We easily could’ve come out with the result, and then the narrative’s a little bit different,” he said before the Rangers game. “Overall, we know we’re not where we want to be. We’ve gotta play better.”
They all keep saying some version of that. The Hawks will be 81 games in and still saying they need to play better.
Two weeks ago, Patrick Kane hoped they could get in the playoff chase by the All-Star Game. At the time, they were six points back. Now it’s eight. The goal has been adjusted to simply going into the break with a win or two.
“We still know how to play well in here,” he said this week. “We still know what we have to do to win games. We should have a lot of confidence with what’s transpired over the last month with our team.”
That belief is probably rooted more so in the last decade than in the last month, and it’s easy to understand why. The big names are still here. When the Hawks send out Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, that looks like a championship team — because four years ago it was.
It’s not anymore, and this probably won’t be their last rough patch. It would take a monumental run to save the season, and the Hawks look increasingly incapable of it.