Blackhawks fall flat against Flyers as offense remains dormant
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By Mark Lazerus
PHILADELPHIA — Joel Quenneville was watching on Tuesday night as the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild all fell behind early in their games, only to rally for overtime victories over Eastern Conference powers. His delight quickly turned to dismay.
“That happens,” Quenneville said. “Could have been a positive night, but didn’t turn out so good, after all.”
Wednesday was worse.
Facing yet another non-playoff team, the Blackhawks had yet another poor effort, falling 4-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. And so less than a week after a stirring pair of victories over the New York Islanders and New York Rangers capped a 6-0-1 stretch to vault the Hawks back into the Central Division race, the Hawks have stumbled badly — blanked in Dallas, eking out an unimpressive victory in Carolina, and falling in Philadelphia. Two points of a possible six against teams basically playing out the string.
“You can look at a number of reasons, or call them excuses,” Jonathan Toews said. “We have to find ways to win games, whether you’re playing your best game or playing a really good team that’s playoff-bound or not, it’s always about our preparation. We always say that. One way or another we didn’t play smart road games this road trip and we have to be better than we have been.”
The offense has been non-existent — just four goals in their last four games, excluding an empty-netter in Carolina — and Quenneville didn’t exactly ice his most offensive-minded lineup, benching Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen in favor of Daniel Carcillo and Andrew Desjardins. He also moved Andrew Shaw to the top line, though that lasted all of one period.
Quenneville said he wasn’t sending messages, and that he wanted to give the team some energy.
“We haven’t been happy with the production,” Quenneville said. “Trying to get something going.”
But the gambit failed — not that Bickell and Teravainen likely would have made much of a difference in a loss that was a total team effort, Corey Crawford excluded.
Scoring is down dramatically across the league, but the Hawks clearly are feeling the loss of Patrick Kane, as their puck-possession game has been almost non-existent. Against the Flyers, they fumbled with the puck, made sloppy passes, and got little offensive help from their defense. They managed 35 shots on goal, but aside from a Patrick Sharp chance in the second period on which Steve Mason made a big save, and Shaw’s power-play goal early in the third period, they were mostly harmless, and easily turned aside.
Quenneville said that aside from the Dallas and Philadelphia games, he’s been generally happy with the Hawks’ brand of play lately. But Duncan Keith said the Hawks can be better — and need to be.
The Hawks are five points behind St. Louis and four points behind Nashville, with a game in hand on each.
“There’s nine games left, there’s lots of points at stake,” Keith said. “We’re not happy about the way we played on this road trip, but [there’s] nothing else to do but play better.”
The Flyers were sharper from the start. Corey Crawford had to make big stops on Jakub Voracek and Nick Cousins in the early going, then was finally beaten by Wayne Simmonds after a lengthy sequence of sustained pressure created by multiple Hawks turnovers. Being unable to clear their own zone has been a theme on this road trip, and the Hawks yielded at least 35 shots for the fourth time in their last six games.
Quenneville reconfigured all four lines in the second period, but the result was the same. Ryan White made it 2-0 at 7:09 when he tipped a Carlo Colaiacovo shot from the point past Crawford. And At 13:58, Claude Giroux outraced Michal Rozsival and deflected a centering pass from Voracek in for a 3-0 lead.
As they often do after lackluster starts against lesser teams, the Hawks got some life early in the third. Just 14 seconds after the Flyers took the first penalty of the game, Shaw tipped in a Keith blast for his third goal in two games, cutting the deficit to 3-1. But that was as close as the Hawks got, as Philadelphia’s Michael Raffl put the finishing touches on the win with a power-play goal at 15:55.
With two games against the Blues in the final week of the season, the Central remains within reach. But more importantly, the Hawks need to find their offense, settle their defense, and figure out how to play consistently well — no matter who the opponent is — in time for the playoffs.
“Obviously, the end goals are in the back of our minds,” Keith said. “But I think we want to first and foremost be clicking on all cylinders, where we’ve got everybody going and we’re playing a good team game. We’ve done that for periods of time throughout the season, but we’ve got to do that come playoff time.”
NOTE: Joakim Nordstrom left the game after taking a hard hit from Nicklas Grossman early in the third. He appeared to be having his shoulder tended to on the bench before leaving for the dressing room. Quenneville said he’d have a better idea of his status on Thursday.