GLENDALE, Ariz. — Interim coach Derek King returned to the Blackhawks’ locker room, moments after their 6-4 loss to the Coyotes, to find the door closed.
A players-only meeting had commenced. Jonathan Toews and the rest of the team leadership handled the message. King never stepped foot inside or said a word to anyone.
“The specifics [of the conversation] always stay behind closed doors, but the gist of it was there are clearly times in these last few games where we’re playing really good hockey, and then we just decide to take a few shifts off,” a stoic Toews said awhile later.
“We’ve got to find ways to commit to each other and not have those lapses of energy and focus. We don’t want this little skid to snowball into something bigger than it is. So, mentally, [we’re] just trying to flush a couple of those losses down the tube.”
After all that has gone horribly wrong for the Hawks this season, Thursday’s embarrassing defeat to the NHL’s worst team arguably set a new low — on the ice, at least. They’ve now lost six straight.
The night began to derail before warmups began. The team’s COVID-19 protocol list jumped from one player to four, with Brandon Hagel, Erik Gustafsson and newly acquired Sam Lafferty joining Kevin Lankinen.
King had only 11 forwards at his disposal and shuffled through virtually every line combination possible. Nicolas Beaudin was dressed as the seventh defenseman and 18th skater, giving the Hawks a technically full-strength lineup, but he played only 71 seconds in his first NHL appearance this season.
“It’s tough to rotate guys in all the time,” King said. “It’s just off. We’re off to begin with, and then we weren’t ready to start the game. Just kind of one of those days.”
The game itself was a strange, chaotic affair, featuring four delay-of-game penalties, countless momentum shifts and a hat trick by a player (Johan Larsson) with zero previous goals this season in front of a sparse crowd at Gila River Arena.
The Coyotes entered the night with six wins in their first 31 games, having never led by multiple goals at any point in those 31 games. They finished the night having produced three multigoal leads.
The Hawks did have some good stretches, particularly early in the second period — ripping off nine consecutive shots and two consecutive goals to tie the game — and late in the third. They climbed back from 5-2 down to create some nerve-racking final chances. The Hawks finished with advantages in nearly every statistical category, including a 32-22 scoring-chance edge.
But their penalty kill continued to struggle, Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four-plus goals in his second consecutive start since returning from COVID and the Hawks felt like they weren’t focused during a number of shifts.
“Our start was pretty flat,” Toews said. “In the second [period], we got into penalty trouble again. Moments like that, we’re giving up one, two, three goals, and we get ourselves in a hole. Those are making the difference for us right now.”
Mike Hardman and Ian Mitchell also were recalled with Beaudin during the pregame shuffle. They’ll presumably join the team Friday in Las Vegas.