The Blackhawks think they’re well on their way toward establishing the hardworking culture they need. On most nights, that’s evident.
On Friday, against arguably the model team, it temporarily vanished.
The Hawks’ recent surge came to a decisive end in a 5-3 road loss to the Hurricanes, a game that wasn’t as close as the score implies.
After a competitive shootout loss and a rousing victory in the teams’ first series this month, Friday demonstrated the gap the Hawks still must overcome. The Hurricanes’ 11-3-1 record is third in the NHL in points percentage, and they’ve ranked among the top four in scoring-chance ratio three seasons running. The Hawks have not.
‘‘You want to measure yourselves against the best, and this team, they’re right at the top of our division and probably the league,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘We wanted the challenge. In our barn, we were right with them. . . . Tonight, they were better than us, I think everyone would agree. But that’s how you measure yourself.’’
Outside of the closing minutes of the second period, when Patrick Kane scored on a beautiful spin-o-rama backhand before setting up a goal by Ian Mitchell for a 2-2 tie, the Hawks lost almost every puck battle.
Three third-period goals by the Hurricanes eventually put the game out of reach, and the final stats accurately told the tale. Shot attempts: 72-48, Hurricanes. Shots on goal: 38-29, Hurricanes. Scoring chances: 35-25, Hurricanes.
But it was just one night, one game, one loss. The Hawks will hope to benefit from the lessons learned.
Kane, a man who has learned many lessons and dished out far more in his 14-year career, believes in that theory.
‘‘We’re trying to ingrain in our culture here where we bring that work ethic, that battle level every night,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s just a team that does that every night. You learn from those things. Be a good, hardworking team away from the puck. When you’re in a puck battle, win the puck battle and come out with it. It’s going to make the game easier.’’
The Hurricanes’ off-the-puck systems proved particularly challenging — and illuminating — for the Hawks’ young defensemen.
The Hurricanes’ forecheck, neutral-zone line and defensive structure are all aggressive, taking advantage of their fast and deep lineup. Colliton said they ‘‘definitely play the most high-pressure system in the league.’’
The Hawks don’t want to steal that title, but they’d like to emulate some aspects of it.
‘‘(The Hurricanes’) systems are very similar to how we want to defend,’’ Mitchell said. ‘‘It’s a high-pressure system. We (both) don’t want to give the other team any time. We can take a lot from how they played us tonight, learn from that and try to replicate it against other teams.’’
Mitchell actually fared relatively well Friday. Nicolas Beaudin and Adam Boqvist had rougher nights. They were victimized on the Hurricanes’ second goal, and both finished with shot-attempt ratios below 35%.
Beaudin basically was benched, playing only 4:35 in the second and third periods combined.
‘‘It’s not always going to be perfect, especially when it’s his first real stretch in the NHL,’’ Colliton said.
That is true not only for Beaudin but for practically half the Hawks’ roster. And if the trial-by-fire experience Friday helps them dish out similar fire years from now, the highs and lows of 2021 will be worth it.
‘‘We’ll keep reminding them how good we can be when we’re on, when we’re sharp and when we’ve got the work ethic,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘Tonight, (there’s) a lot of talk about how (the Hurricanes are( hard to play against, but we can do that, too. That’ll be the focus over the next few days.’’