Will Blackhawks still look good after six-games-in-nine-days stretch?
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It was fun while it lasted. Such a pity that the Blackhawks couldn’t keep playing overtime games — without a single defeat in regulation — into eternity and beyond.
The season got real Thursday night in an unsightly 4-1 loss to the Coyotes at the United Center.
Real ugly, real quick.
“We’re not happy with the way we played,” center Jonathan Toews said after Friday’s practice at MB Ice Arena. “The way we competed was much different than what we’ve seen the first handful of games.”
The loss closed the book on the nice little narrative about the team’s first five games, all of which went to OT — an NHL first — to add up to a hefty eight points in the standings. Over the course of two-plus hours against an opponent that hustled more, crashed the net harder and cashed in on its opportunities, the Hawks issued a reminder that they’re still climbing out of the hole they created during a last-place 2017-18 season.
“That was our first game that you could say, ‘Not good enough,’ ” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It kind of reminded me of what wouldn’t work last year. We were too easy away from the net. We had a lot of blocked shots because we didn’t have anybody at the net or around the net. We had zone time, but we didn’t use it properly.”
A stretch of only three games in 11 days included four days off before the clash with the Coyotes. A break like that always sounds good in theory, but Toews wasn’t surprised that it led to an uneven performance. Any imperfections in the Hawks’ play thus far — a dormant power play and shoddy penalty kills — boil down to work ethic, according to the captain.
“When you have some times where there’s a little bit of a letdown in your schedule, you have to find ways to mentally get ready and get into that game and have a good start,” Toews said. “A game like [Thursday’s], obviously the way we competed wasn’t acceptable. When we do show up and work, all those other little details seem to fall into place.”
The Hawks must redouble their efforts, lest the season take a less-promising turn in a hurry. Beginning Saturday night against the Blue Jackets in Columbus, they’ll play six times in nine days.
It certainly helps to have goalie Corey Crawford back in the mix. After returning to the lineup Thursday for the first time since December of last season, Crawford is expected to start again in Columbus.
There, the Hawks will run into old friend Artemi Panarin, whom they sent to the Blue Jackets in the 2017 offseason deal that brought Brandon Saad back to Chicago. While Saad has continued to struggle since his return, Panarin has blown up into a star. The 26-year-old winger piled up a team-high 82 points last season and is leading the Blue Jackets in scoring again with nine points in six games.
“It’s 82 games this year,” Toews said. “Five games, it’s nice to start well, but it’s meaningless if you don’t sustain it, you don’t keep improving. So we know it’s just the beginning.”
NOTE: Defenseman Brandon Davidson will make his regular-season debut in Columbus. He and Jan Rutta were the third defensive pairing at practice Friday. Davidson will replace the struggling Brandon Manning in the lineup.
“I’m not going to try to do too much, just stay in my comfort zone,” Davidson said. “But I’m excited. I’m ready to go and looking forward to it.”