ST. LOUIS — It has been more than three years since the Blackhawks recorded fewer shots on goal than they did Saturday.
The Hawks barely mustered a fight on the scoreboard nor a challenge to Blues goalie Ville Husso, who faced only 16 shots in one of the easiest wins of his young NHL career — a 5-1 Blues romp.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” interim coach Derek King said. “But that’s not good enough. I’ve got to watch my words here, but we just can’t do that. We can’t put an effort out like that and hope to maybe steal a game from somebody. That’s not going to happen.”
The Hawks did play well, for once, in the second period. But Vladimir Tarasenko’s goal 41 seconds before intermission — extending the lead to 3-1 — broke the back of the Hawks, who hardly showed up for the third period.
They were outshot 13-2 in the final frame, inflating the final count to 31-16. That tied (with two games from 2021) for their fewest since November 2018.
“We were playing decent, and then they get that one,” Dylan Strome said. “It’s tough to go into the third period down two. It would’ve been nice to be down one. But either way, it wasn’t a good enough effort in the third to be close in that game.”
“Whether they packed it in or not, I think guys are trying — some guys,” King said. “They’re just limited to what they can do out there. It really shows against a team like this [what] your faults [are].”
In a season laden with examples of the Hawks inexplicably not shooting, Saturday provided several brutal new additions — particularly an instance when Brandon Hagel missed Strome on an ill-advised pass while standing all alone three feet in front of Husso.
“We refused to shoot pucks; we refused to drive the net,” King said. “It’s something we’re going to have to address.”
The Hawks’ penalty kill has quietly killed them lately. Conceding another goal Saturday dropped their kill rate since Thanksgiving to 66.7%, having allowed 28 goals on 84 opportunities. That ranks last in the NHL.
And they deserve that ranking: They’ve allowed the second-most shot attempts, 10th-most scoring chances and sixth-most expected goals against during that span. They’re also one of three teams who haven’t scored a short-handed goal since Thanksgiving.
“The PK is a tough job, and we’ve got some young guys that are working at it and they do some good things out there,” King said. “It always seems to be one goal that goes in and cripples us.”
Patrick Kane pointed out something that’s good to hear: The Hawks have greatly increased the number and presence of their mental-skills coaches.
“[They’re] around every day in the locker room, watching meetings, watching players, available to talk to players if there’s any certain situations going on,” Kane said. “It’s not something I’ve really seen before this year. We had certain guys, but they’d come in every now and then.
“The organization has done a really good job at trying to make sure we’re all protected as players and we have the availability to talk to certain people if need be.”
The Hawks’ front-office directory now includes an entire “mental performance” section, listing director AJ Sturges and coach Peter Kadushin — both of whom were hired in July 2021 — as well as “mindset manager” Vincent Malts.