DETROIT — In the last two seasons, the Blackhawks have played 42 playoff games. They’ve played for the Stanley Cup, and for the right to play for the Stanley Cup. They’ve played elimination games, multiple overtimes, heartstopping thrillers that make careers and forge legacies.
It’s mid-November right now. Sixty-five games away from the postseason.
In the wake of a sloppy 4-1 loss to Detroit on Friday night, is it possible the Hawks are having trouble focusing for 60 straight minutes? Is it possible they’re just a little, dare we say, bored?
“If that’s the case, we’ve got to find a way to enjoy it and to enjoy being around each other and enjoy being on the road and having some of these games,” a clearly peeved Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said after the game, shortly before he did 20 push-ups in the middle of the visitors locker room at Joe Louis Arena. “If some people think they’re meaningless, they’re absolutely mistaken. As tight as our division is, every game means a lot nowadays. We’ve got to find a way to see things in a positive and energetic light, where we’re excited to win. We need to find that again.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville didn’t find too much fault with the effort on Friday, but the mental lapses infuriated him. A trio of careless turnovers — including two egregious ones by Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane — turned into Red Wings goals. Twice, they cut short their own power plays with unnecessary penalties. And they were outshot 31-16 through the first 40 minutes.
By the time they put things together and started to push back in the third period, the damage already had been done.
“It’s unacceptable when we make some turnovers like that,” Kane said. “We all have to take ownership for it, accept it, and make sure that we fix the problem.”
Six minutes into the game, Versteeg made a foolish pass through the slot in his own end of the rink, and Luke Glendening turned it into a 1-0 Red Wings lead. Versteeg — on the one-year anniversary of his trade back to the Hawks — spent the rest of the period on the bench.
“There are mistakes, and there are cardinal sins,” Quenneville said. “The purists of hockey wouldn’t tolerate that kind of play.”
Kane tied it up on a power play at 11:16, taking a slick Toews pass and rifling it into the net. But the Red Wings scored two goals in 70 seconds early in the second period — Franzen off Kane’s turnover, and Tomas Tatar after a bad pass by David Rundblad in the neutral zone.
Kane didn’t suffer the same punishment as Versteeg. But Quenneville wasn’t happy with him, either.
“They both were served up,” Quenneville said. “They were both pizzas for me.”
The Hawks righted the ship in the third, holding Detroit to just one shot for the first 17-plus minutes, but were unable to beat Jimmy Howard. Brendan Smith tacked on an empty-netter for the final margin.
The Hawks had been 9-0-2 in their last 11 regular-season games in Detroit. But more importantly, they were coming off nice wins over the Sharks and Lightning, and were trending in the right direction. But as has been the case all season so far, they couldn’t keep it up. Another poor outing, another regression, another couple of points left on the table.
November might not have the stakes of May and June, but the games still count. And they add up.
“We always seem to take a couple steps forward and [then] an extra step backward with an effort like we had tonight,” Toews said. “So we’ve just got to get this out of our system, and sooner [rather] than later. It’s not acceptable right now.”