Plummeting Blackhawks say they must ‘prepare’ better, but it’s unclear how

Alex DeBrincat, Duncan Keith, Ryan Carpenter and Erik Gustafsson were unable to point Thursday to a specific area in which the Hawks can better prepare for future games, despite coach Jeremy Colliton’s persistent discussion of that topic.

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Erik Gustafsson must not only focus on the Blackhawks’ playoff push but also ignore rampant trade rumors.

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Jeremy Colliton said the word “prepare” four times in his five-minute news conference after the loss Wednesday.

It felt like 20 times.

“It starts tomorrow with how we practice, making sure that whatever we do, let’s do it with intention and like it’s a game,” he said at one point. “When you prepare in that way, then when it becomes game time and the intensity goes up to 100, it’s not that big a shock.”

There turned out to be one problem with that plan, albeit an intentional one: the Blackhawks didn’t actually practice Thursday.

Instead, they cancelled the on-ice portion at the last minute — leaving the few expectant fans at Fifth-Third Arena disappointed. The team instead held a meeting and private film session.

“We felt the video and the meeting and discussion was more important,” Colliton said. “If we’re [physically] tired, we’re mentally tired. And we have to find a way to prepare ourselves mentally to play every situation with urgency that’s required to win. So that’s the focus of today.”

In the video session, the team reviewed what snowballed in the wrong direction in the 6-3 loss to the Rangers.

On Wednesday, Colliton identified poor gap control, allowing opposing forwards to slip goal-side and being slow to recognize counterattacks as key breakdowns. On Thursday, he tacked on all three forwards “caught below the puck flat-footed.”

“You watch clips, some good, some bad, and some things we definitely need to work on and correct,” forward Ryan Carpenter said. “Those are things you can think about the next 24 hours.”

Certainly, fixing strategic problems is an important task. But 60 games into the season, there’s clearly something wrong with this team, and preparation could be the big issue.

Yet, none of the players made available to reporters after the non-practice Thursday — Carpenter, Alex DeBrincat, Duncan Keith and trade-rumor darling Erik Gustafsson — had good answers as to what specifically the Hawks could do to prepare better.

“I don’t know maybe specifically, but coming out in the first period, we’ve got to be ready,” DeBrincat said. “We gave up a lot of chances in the first period, and that kind of trickles down to the rest of the game, too. I think, whether it’s talking in the locker room before the game starts and really get everyone ready to go or whatever it is, we just need to come out better.”

“We know what the game plan is and what we need to do, what we have to do,” Keith said. “So it’s up to every individual. They’re in the NHL. They know how to prepare themselves. It’s up to us. I know for myself we have a routine and stick to that kind of routine. It’s not always the same, but you’re just ready to go mentally. I think understanding the situation, understanding the importance of playing the right way and those types of things are going to help you prepare knowing we need to win.”

If preparedness is defined by game-day routine, there inevitably are some differences between home and road games — Patrick Kane noted before Wednesday’s game the 11:30 (vs. 10:30) morning skate, the hotel accommodations and the team bus transportation to the arena — and the road routine seems to be working slightly better for the Hawks this year.

Neither is working well enough, though.

And if the Hawks actually are going to change, one way or another, how they prepare because of Colliton’s call-outs Wednesday, they aren’t disclosing it.

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