Stuck in the most bizarre of roster predicaments, distracted by an assistant coach under investigation and facing a brutal sequence of top-tier opponents, the Blackhawks are nearing a new rock bottom.
They could barely muster a scoring chance until garbage time in a 4-0 loss to the Blues on Monday at the United Center. It was their sixth loss in seven games.
“We played three terrible games,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “It’s definitely frustrating when you’re out there. We have to work through it. We have to be better.”
The lineup the Hawks fielded was short-handed not only because of the vast number of missing pieces — goalie Robin Lehner felt ill and winger Andrew Shaw was ruled out with an undisclosed injury, joining defenseman Duncan Keith and forwards Dylan Strome and Drake Caggiula on the inactive list — but also because of an unfortunate salary-cap issue.
With five players injured but only one (Caggiula) hurt enough to be put on long-term injured reserve — the only type of IR that takes salary off the books — the Hawks did not have the cap space to recall a 12th forward and field a full lineup of 18 skaters. So they played with only 11 forwards and six defensemen, something it’s believed no NHL team has had to do since the Kings in an October 2014 game against the Penguins.
The Kings lost that game 3-0. The Hawks one-upped them.
“I mean, we tried,” center Jonathan Toews said. “We weren’t executing — we weren’t doing those little things right again. It just makes everything tougher on all five guys when we’re not making simple plays.”
Toews had scathing words for the Hawks’ unity on the ice. Their 38 shots on goal led to zero goals in their first home shutout loss since January 2018.
“We have to find ways to . . . have five guys together in the picture, helping each other out in the puck area,” Toews said. “We’re just kind of looping through areas. We’re just separate, and we’re all over the place. You’re bound to make -mistakes.”
The whole night was overshadowed by the Hawks’ announcement a half-hour before puck drop that assistant coach Marc Crawford will be away from the team indefinitely while the organization investigates allegations he abused players at previous coaching stops.
And the on-ice performance was subpar. Winger Patrick Kane saw his points streak end at 15 games. Winger Alex DeBrincat saw his goal drought extended to 12 games. -Corey Crawford conceded four goals on 30 shots. The power play produced nothing dangerous on two opportunities and is now in a 3-for-27 slump.
The ugliness goes on and on, and it’s showing in the standings. The Hawks, on the cusp of a wild-card spot a few weeks ago, are now entrenched in last place in the division.
On more fronts than one, the situation is becoming dire.
“We’ve got to do a better job of preparing ourselves,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “As a coaching staff, we’ve got to find the right button to get our guys to come out from the beginning and play the way we need to.”