Blackhawks’ abilities to stay confident, optimistic being tested by woeful November

After going 4-3-2 in October, Luke Richardson challenged the Hawks to post an even better record in November. Instead, they’ve fallen into the NHL’s basement, going 2-7-2 this month with two games left in it.

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Blackhawks goalie Petr Mrazek makes a save.

Blackhawks goalie Petr Mrazek has learned how to flush away bad losses, but the Hawks’ November woes are putting his mental resilience to the test.

AP Photo/LM Otero

In 302 games over 11 years in the NHL, Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek has experienced his fair share of heartbreaking losses.

The Hawks’ 6-4 defeat Wednesday against the Stars — Mrazek’s most recent start — ranks fairly high on the list. Allowing five goals (four by Mrazek, one into an empty net) in the final 10 minutes after taking a 4-1 lead certainly stings.

But it’s not the worst. The Red Wings’ 7-6 overtime loss to the Islanders on Feb. 9, 2018, holds that title, in his opinion. Mrazek and the Wings led 5-2 with just six minutes left before conceding four goals on a five-minute penalty kill, regrouping to tie it late and then falling in overtime.

Put Mrazek in any game situation — good or bad — and he probably has experienced something similar before.

“I’ve been here for a while,” he said. “Every day in the league, it’s never the same. You can play a team today and win 1-0; you can play them tomorrow and lose 8-0. That’s how the league is.”

He has learned, by necessity, how to mentally flush almost anything. By the end of Hawks practice Thursday, he was smiling again. He’ll likely be smiling at morning skate Sunday, too, preparing to face the Jets.

“To me, [you have to] just forget about it,” he said. “[There’s] nothing you can change right now. What you can change is show up here, be happy to be around, work hard on and off the ice and get to another one.”

Many of Mrazek’s teammates probably could tell similar tales and claim similar hardiness to the NHL’s volatility. The Hawks are rebuilding, but their NHL roster isn’t actually that young or inexperienced (yet).

Their roster does lack talent, though, which is the biggest possible weakness. That’s a difficult fact to acknowledge, but coach Luke Richardson has indirectly alluded to it enough times that he’s clearly aware of it.

Overcoming that talent gap requires perfect game plans, relentless work ethic and some -favorable luck. During their 4-3-2 October, the Hawks walked that fine line successfully. Richardson, encouraged, challenged his team to finish November with an even better record.

They will not. In fact, they’re an abysmal 2-7-2 this month with two games left. They’ve fallen to 29th in the NHL, just three points ahead of the last-place Ducks and one point ahead of the Blue Jackets and Senators. Their chances of landing the No. 1 pick are skyrocketing, but nothing else is — and no one in the locker room or coaching room can take any solace in the draft implications.

Annoyingly for the Hawks, over the last three games, they’ve looked much closer to their October selves than their November selves. They’ve been leading or tied in every third period, having carried play for significant stretches against three teams (the Penguins, Stars and Canadiens) with winning records.

But they’re receiving no reward for it, and they can only stomach so much Mrazek-esque mental flushing.

“It is frustrating,” Richardson said. “It’s disappointing sitting in that room as a player, putting all the effort out for 60 minutes and only getting one point out of three pretty good games. But there’s 82 games, so you have to look ahead. You have to think, as an optimist, the next three games will be two home wins, and [we’ll] start off the road trip with a win.

“That’s how I look at it. And I talk to the players that way, so hopefully they feel that way and have confidence in each other. It breeds just like negativity does. So we have to make sure we’re -positive and help ourselves out of this because no one else is going to help us.”

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