Blackhawks’ losing ways continue against Sharks: ‘We make the game way too difficult’

Kevin Lankinen was decisively beaten by San Jose’s Kaapo Kahkonen in the goaltending battle Saturday as the Hawks lost 4-1.

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Timo Meier and Jonathan Toews battle for the puck.

Timo Meier and Jonathan Toews battle for the puck in the Sharks’ 4-1 win over the Blackhawks on Saturday.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Derek King gave the Blackhawks an emphatic pregame speech Saturday, saying they should be “embarrassed” after Thursday’s effortless loss and urging them to “earn that respect back.”

The Hawks did play better Saturday. But playing better was a low bar to clear, and it ultimately made no difference on the scoreboard in a 4-1 loss to the Sharks — the Hawks’ 12th defeat in their last 14 games.

So when the sound of applause by SAP Center arena workers drifted through the interim coach’s postgame news conference, he quipped, “I hope that’s not in our locker room.”

“Our compete [level] and everything is there,” said Tyler Johnson, who scored the Hawks’ lone goal. “It’s just our decision-making. We make the game way too difficult. 

“We’re all over the ice. We just play one-on-one battles instead of playing as a team. When you do that [against] teams in structure, especially at this time of the year, you just start losing. We’ve got to do a lot better job of playing as a team.”

King commended the Hawks for at least outshooting the Sharks (by a 28-19 margin). The Hawks have outshot their opponent only 23 times in 79 games, so it is notable in an unflattering way. 

The goaltending difference between Kevin Lankinen and Kaapo Kahkonen, however, proved decisive. Kahkonen stood strong when tested. Lankinen, meanwhile, allowed three goals on the first eight shots he faced while struggling through yet another night of rebound-control issues and frequently losing his net.

“He’s got a little Marc-Andre [Fleury] in him sometimes,” King said of Lankinen. “When they’re in front of the net like that, he can’t see, he’s trying to battle, he’s coming out, he’s out of his paint.”

Del Mastro signed

On Friday, the Blackhawks signed promising defensive prospect Ethan Del Mastro to his entry-level contract.

Del Mastro, the Hawks’ 2021 fourth-round pick, has significantly increased his stock this season, tallying 48 points in 68 games with the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads. He also was voted the OHL’s best defensive -defenseman and best penalty-killer in coaches’ polls.

“Ethan has made tremendous strides in his game over the last few years,” Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson said in a statement. “He has really opened our eyes as he showcased a poise with the puck and ability to make plays on the rush this season.”

The 6-4, 206-pound Canadian likely will return to Mississauga next season despite his newly inked NHL contract, which carries a $878,333 salary-cap hit for three years. He’s not AHL-eligible next season, and the contract is eligible to slide.

Scoring trends

With one week left in the regular season, the NHL is averaging 6.26 goals per game, which would make it the highest-scoring season since 1995-96 (when games averaged 6.28 goals).

The upward scoring trend is evident across the board. Teams have scored on 20.5% of power plays, the highest conversion rate since 1989-90 (20.8%). The leaguewide save percentage is .907, the lowest since 2006-07 (.905).

IceHogs clinch

The Rockford IceHogs clinched a spot in the AHL playoffs with a 5-3 win Saturday over the Manitoba Moose, the Jets’ affiliate. The IceHogs’ second-half surge has been a bright spot in a bleak year for the Hawks’ organization. They’re 36-27-5 with four games left.

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