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Drake Caggiula returns after 2-month absence, but Blackhawks fall to Predators

The 25-year-old forward made his first appearance since suffering a hard-to-shake concussion on Nov. 11, but his presence wasn’t enough to help the Hawks avoid a second straight home loss.

Drake Caggiula played Thursday after missing two months with a concussion.
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Dylan Strome’s injury may prove to be the tipping point that the Blackhawks can’t overcome.

Without Strome, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw bolstering the top six, a decent Hawks comeback fell short — and two empty-netters, including one by goalie Pekka Rinne, sealed the result — in a 5-2 home loss against the Predators on Thursday.

“We dug ourselves a hole,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Ultimately, we played really well in the last 40 minutes of the game, but we can’t be satisfied with that. [It’s] pretty disappointing because we wasted some really good efforts for some players.”

Adam Boqvist had a rough first period and the Hawks trailed 3-0, but they earned goals from Dominik Kubalik and Alex DeBrincat to pull within one with 14 minutes to try to tie it.

But the Hawks were, by necessity, sending the likes of Alex Nylander and John Quenneville over the boards, not weapons like Strome and Saad. And they just didn’t seem to have the firepower to break through the Preds’ hang-on-for-dear-life defense.

“Shortened up [the bench] a little bit to try to generate more offense, but I thought the guys that were in, when they were skating, they were very effective,” he said. “We’ve just got to find it earlier.”

The lines the Hawks deployed for the first two periods were comically hodgepodge. Fourth-line center David Kampf skated on Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat’s wing. Nylander became the wing opposite Patrick Kane on his line. Quenneville, despite his lack of production, remained on the first line.

In the third period, Colliton consolidated Kane, Toews and red-hot Kubalik into one legitimately powerful trio, but the pickings outside of them were even slimmer.

The Hawks talked after the game about their need for a stronger work ethic and 60-minute desperation, especially at home. But it’s worth wondering if this current decimated roster is truly capable of that.

Caggiula returns

Drake Caggiula said he went through a time, as his concussion symptoms dragged weeks longer than initially hoped, when he considered shutting himself down for the season.

But he stuck with it, eventually went nine days symptom-free and finally returned to the lineup Thursday. He played 11 minutes, with two shots and four hits, on the fourth line with Matthew Highmore and Zack Smith.

“He brings that element for us and plays hard, plays with energy, wins a lot of puck battles, wins a lot of races,” Colliton said before the game. “[He’s] willing to go to the net, which is something we’ll always like to have more of.”

Caggiula, who has experienced multiple concussions in the past, was injured Nov. 11 against the Maple Leafs, even though he didn’t realize it until he was on a flight two days later to Las Vegas. He was then expected to return to the lineup Dec. 5 in Boston, but suffered a setback.

In the last month, he went through a wide range of emotions — some caused by the concussion itself — but was helped through it by Shaw, who is out indefinitely with his own concussion.

“Shawzy and I talked a lot throughout the whole process on how to handle it and what we’re experiencing, how we feel emotionally away from the rink,” Caggiula said. “It was nice to have somebody along with me to go through that.”