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Blackhawks’ lineup shuffles vs. Oilers not enough to avoid 4th consecutive loss

Dylan Strome’s benching and a power play shakeup were well-intentioned but ultimately fruitless.

Edmonton goalie Mike Smith was shaky early but locked down the Blackhawks in the third period.
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EDMONTON, Alberta — Jeremy Colliton took the necessary action to shake up the Blackhawks’ stagnant forward lines and power play units Tuesday.

But the eventual result was the same: another loss, the team’s fourth in a row, this time 5-3 against the Oilers.

“We’ve got to find a way to produce complete efforts, and if we do, it’ll be good enough to get points,” Colliton said. “I think we’re good enough, I believe in the guys we have that we’re good enough to string results together, but we’ve got to find a way to be more consistent within the game and within periods and shift-to-shift.”

Dylan Strome, uncharacteristically invisible since returning from injury, was healthy scratched in favor of Alex Nylander. Nylander — characteristically — didn’t factor into the scoring either, but the bold move was justified by Sunday’s meltdown in Winnipeg.

The first power play unit, the biggest culprit of all in Winnipeg, also received a makeover, with sniper Dominik Kubalik assuming an Alex Ovechkin-like role — firing one-timer after one-timer from the faceoff circle — and grinder Zack Smith intriguingly slotted into a screening role.

“Just trying to get in front of the goalie’s eyes, be a netfront presence,” Smith said. “They want to shoot the puck more, they want to make sure someone’s there. I had strict rules where to be, but it’s a good opportunity.”

The first two power plays were as ugly as they’ve largely all been for weeks, but the third showed potential, producing nine shot attempts and five scoring chances.

That was part of a dominant third-period comeback attempt by the Hawks, who out-attempted and out-chanced the host Oilers 28-6 and 12-3, respectively, in the frame. But goaltender Mike Smith, shaky along with Robin Lehner through the first half of the game, locked in and prevented any of the Hawks’ many good looks from tying the score.

Lehner has now allowed four goals (the Oilers’ fifth was an empty-netter) in two of his last three starts, but said afterward he nonetheless didn’t feel like he was fighting the puck.

“They got four goals off of grade-A scoring chance rebounds,” he said. “I’d like the puck to stick to me a little bit better — maybe on the third goal I thought I had it — but every single one of those goals were a high scoring chance rebound.”

The Hawks’ losing streak has dropped them basically to where they stood before January’s five-game winning streak: 12th in the West, ahead of only the three California teams, and on the underside of the playoff bubble.

They trail the eighth-place Coyotes by six points — albeit with three games in hand, but both the Predators and Wild lay in between with equal or fewer games played than the Hawks. The Hawks also have three games still remaining on this Canadian road trip.

“It’s not about this trip,” Lehner said. “We’re in a playoff race, and we have to stop the bleeding and get back and climb back in. We fought hard to put ourselves in position, and can’t let it slip away from us.”