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Despite string of losses, Blackhawks have no choice but to maintain hope

Realistically, the Hawks are probably doomed already. But their remaining 48 games will feel interminable if they don’t convince themselves otherwise.

Connor Murphy and the Blackhawks’ scrambling wasn’t enough to avoid a 6-4 loss to the Coyotes on Thursday.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

LAS VEGAS — Defenseman Connor Murphy, albeit somewhat inadvertently, best summed up the Blackhawks’ predicament Thursday night.

‘‘No matter where you’re at in your season, you’re not going to get anywhere without hope,’’ he said.

Indeed, even after six consecutive losses — and even after failing to snap that skid against a Coyotes team built to lose — the Hawks have no choice but to maintain belief and move forward.

They have to convince themselves they still can make the playoffs, even though it’s an extreme long shot. They have to convince themselves they have a playoff-caliber roster when they don’t. They have to convince themselves that they’ve lost 23 of 34 games so far largely because of issues they can fix.

They have to because the remaining four months of the regular season — and the 48 games in those months — will feel like an insufferable, interminable slog if they don’t. That hope is the only remaining source of fuel.

‘‘You’re not going to get anywhere without . . . taking anything positive,’’ Murphy said. ‘‘You need to trust in your process and find the right things that you need to do, whether that’s [through] accountability with your teammates, your coaches or yourself.

‘‘That’s the way this league and the game is. You need to win games. It does get to a point where it’s not good enough just to say you’re going to keep working. You need to produce, and we’re aware of that. And we’re going to take steps toward getting to that right place.’’

Led by captain Jonathan Toews, Murphy and the rest of the leadership group, the Hawks held a rare players-only meeting after the debacle against the Coyotes to discuss many of the things of which they must convince themselves.

The main talking point afterward was that the Hawks need to stay more focused throughout each game.

‘‘We’ve got to find ways to commit to each other and not have those lapses of energy and focus,’’ Toews said. ‘‘[And we need to] see when those lapses are coming and keep each other engaged on the bench and find ways to . . . play with energy, especially when teams are coming back at us.’’

Plenty of optimism also penetrated the rhetoric.

‘‘[We] know that if we keep playing as a team and if we’re a little more consistent with our effort, things are going to start clicking for us,’’ Toews said.

‘‘We have great players; that’s something we talk about with each other,’’ Murphy said. ‘‘We know we have the right people here. And we all care and see the talent level that we have on both sides of the puck. That’s what’s most frustrating — that we haven’t been able to show that.’’

The Hawks aren’t exactly wrong about their assessment of what needs correcting. And they aren’t exactly wrong about being a more talented team than they’ve demonstrated to date.

Many teams in NHL history have underachieved, however. And many at some point overestimated the effect identifying — and even solving — one specific problem would have on their overall trajectory.

Interim coach Derek King, who literally was locked out of the meeting Thursday, has been around the league enough decades to understand that.

‘‘The broken record has been played for 100 years,’’ King said knowingly. ‘‘It doesn’t matter if it’s these guys or the next generation of players. Even when I played, it was the same thing. We said the right things. And we believe in the right things. And sometimes it’s hard to do the right things.

‘‘Twenty years from now . . . you’re going to hear the same stories: ‘We need to stick together as a team. We need to get pucks deep. We need to have better net-front [presences]. We need to do this, do that.’ I know they say the right things. They just have to believe in it, and hopefully they’ll figure it out sometime.’’

At practice Friday, with King back in charge, the Hawks worked on their defensive-zone coverage, particularly ‘‘stopping in the house’’ rather than ‘‘fading’’ out of the slot. They’ll test the effect of those drills Saturday against the Golden Knights, a game in which they should be able to field a normal 12-forward, six-defenseman lineup, thanks to Brett Connolly’s return from suspension.

It almost certainly won’t matter in the end, even with these 48 games of inevitable highs and lows left on the roller coaster. But the Hawks might as well try to improve and might as well maintain their hope.

It only will be a more miserable ride if they don’t.