WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Blackhawks were playing their best hockey in weeks through the first 23 minutes Sunday, an encouraging start to a potentially season-defining Canadian road trip.
Then they got a power play.
That seemingly positive event proved to be the spark that ignited a colossal meltdown in the eventual 5-2 loss to the Jets, bringing the Hawks’ dysfunctional power-play unit — and arguably their season overall — to a crucial breaking point.
“It’s up to us,” captain Jonathan Toews said later. “[We] can’t make excuses, can’t keep changing it either and thinking that there’s some magic formula. It’s up to the guys that go out there to really earn it and work for it and not take it for granted.”
The Jets, trailing 2-0 at that point, translated an Alex DeBrincat whiffed pass into a two-on-one break and a Kyle Connor shorthanded goal. Minutes later, they generated a ridiculous three odd-man breaks — including a clear-cut Andrew Copp breakaway — in the first minute of the Hawks’ next power play, before Kirby Dach mercifully ended things early with a high stick.
All told, the Hawks produced two scoring chances and conceded four in 5:01 of power-play time in the second period, and that shifted momentum in an irreversible way.
The Jets, meanwhile, created seven scoring chances while conceding none in their 9:21 of power-play time, and ultimately used that unit to tie the game in the third period.
“Puck plays were a little sloppy, bunch of turnovers,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “At the very least, you don’t want to give up any chances against. Just killed our momentum.”
“All five of us could’ve done a better job being a little bit more sharp and a little bit more ready and just wanting the puck,” Toews said. “The four guys without the puck can always do a better job being available and playing without it and giving the puck-carrier some options.”
Toews added the Hawks need to learn how to not let a bad power-play effort spill into five-on-five play, and certainly that would’ve been a helpful lesson to learn Sunday. After all, it wasn’t just the power play that let the team down: from the first intermission on, the Jets also out-attempted the Hawks 35-25 at even strength.
But the power play was the main thing that let the team down, and at this point, it’s worth asking whether this unit needs a drastic overhaul — either strategically or psychologically — to become viable again.
The Hawks are now 28th in the NHL with a 15 percent power play percentage, ahead of only the all-around horrendous Red Wings, Senators and Ducks. The Oilers’ league-best power play, which the Hawks will witness Tuesday, is converting at nearly double that rate.
Plus, the Hawks have now allowed eight shorthanded goals, tied for fourth-most in the league. Only the aforementioned Wings sport a worse power play goal differential than the Hawks’ plus-17.
Somehow, Colliton retains hope — and looking at the talent on that top unit, it’s easy to see why.
“There’s lots of ways to make it work,” Colliton said. “Tough to respond to that right now, but certainly we’ll discuss it and come ready with a plan.”
The Hawks did miss usual quarterback Adam Boqvist on Sunday, with Erik Gustafsson struggling in his place.
But with the unit seemingly only getting worse, and three consecutive losses now threatening to destroy all the standings progress the Hawks made in January, patience is justifiably growing thin.