Another poor start dooms Blackhawks to defeat in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — Midway through the first period Wednesday night at Scottrade Center, a Blackhawks player rode a Blues player into the side of the net, triggering a post-whistle skirmish full of shoves and spittle. It could have been a scene out of any Hawks-Blues game of recent vintage.

Only it wasn’t Brent Seabrook and David Backes, or Andrew Shaw and Steve Ott, or Brandon Bollig and Ryan Reaves. It was John Hayden and Sammy Blais, a couple of rookies who weren’t even in the league when the Hawks-Blues rivalry hit its modern-day peak. And it was the only real scrum of the game until it was out of hand late. The rivalry clearly has lost some of its juice without Backes, Ott, Reaves and coach Ken Hitchcock around to stir the pot.

Of course, it doesn’t exactly help when the Hawks don’t even bother showing up.

The Hawks lost 5-2 to the Blues  in their worst effort of the young season, a performance masked somewhat by a couple of late power-play goals.

Corey Crawford reacts as St. Louis' Jaden Schwartz (left) celebrates his goal with Sammy Blais after scoring during the second period Wednesday night. (AP Photo)

“That was a bad start and a bad middle,” coach Joel Quenneville seethed. “That was as close to brutal as you can get. They played well and we were brutal.”

It looked an awful lot like most of Saturday night’s game against the Predators, only the hole was too deep for the late push to mean anything. The Hawks looked slow-footed — committing five tripping penalties as the Blues flew around the ice — and disinterested for two periods. Nick Schmaltz’s hotly anticipated return to the lineup gave the Hawks some speed on the second line, but wasn’t the tonic the dormant offense or the sputtering power play needed.

Through two periods, the Hawks had just eight shots on goal.

“Obviously, it wasn’t good enough for two periods,” Patrick Kane said. “If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third. At least we know we can do it. We’ve just got to do it before our backs are against the wall.”

Jaden Schwartz, despite a frightening head-first crash into the boards late in the first period, had a hat trick, killing the Hawks’ frantic comeback attempt from a 4-0 deficit with an empty-netter in the final minute.

Schwartz staked the Blues to a 1-0 lead at 4:48 of the first when Seabrook lost track of him, and left him all alone in front of goaltender Corey Crawford. Schwartz made it 2-0 when Blues goaltender Jake Allen sprung him on a breakaway with a brilliant bank-pass off the boards that Crawford came out to play, leaving him stuck in no-man’s land. Less than two minutes later, Vladimir Tarasenko took the puck right off Artem Anisimov’s stick, turned and fired a puck past Crawford. Kyle Brodziak sniped a shot over Crawford’s shoulder at 7:01 of the third to make it 4-0.

The Hawks avoided the shutout and ended an 0-for-10 stretch with the man-advantage with a pair of late power-play goals by Richard Panik and Alex DeBrincat. In fact, the Hawks fired 14 shots on goal in the final 14 minutes. It was a valiant effort, but it took far too long for the Hawks to find it. It’s only two games, so it’s too early to deem it a trend. But the fact that it came against the Predators and Blues — in theory, at least, the Hawks’ two most hated rivals — is somewhat disconcerting.

“We need to find that desperation [in the] first two periods and play like that,” Ryan Hartman said. “You can see how good of a team we are when we play like that.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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