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Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton, top, and his players react as they watches during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ORG XMIT: CXA115

Four keys to the Blackhawks getting back on the winning track

SHARE Four keys to the Blackhawks getting back on the winning track
SHARE Four keys to the Blackhawks getting back on the winning track

Coach Jeremy Colliton’s voice carried an understated tone of disappointment as he absorbed the Blackhawks’ thudding home loss Sunday to the Panthers. He didn’t want to overreact, but it stung.

The Hawks had played their best hockey of the season for 10 days, then imploded against a beatable opponent. It was a frustrating way for Colliton to head into the team’s three-day Christmas break.

‘‘We had the chance to go in on a real high, and a little bit of a missed opportunity,’’ he said. ‘‘The challenge is to leave this kind of effort where it belongs — behind us — and pick up where we left off.’’

That undertaking begins with a home game Thursday against the Wild. If the Hawks want to dismiss their most recent

defeat as a fluke, they must get back to what they had been doing so well.

Here are four keys to the Hawks righting their season:

1. Goalies going strong

This is where it fell apart last season. The Hawks lost Corey Crawford in December and went 16-25-6 the rest of the way. There has been better resistance this season.

Cam Ward took over when Crawford went out with a concussion last week and gave the Hawks his two best outings of the season before struggling against the Panthers. He stopped 56 of 59 shots against the Predators and Stars and helped shut down late charges in those games. When he needed a break, Collin Delia came through with 35 saves on 36 shots to beat the Avalanche.

‘‘Corey’s a big part of this team and a guy that you really can’t replace,’’ Ward said. ‘‘I’ve gotta just go out there and give our team an opportunity to win.’’

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2. DeBrincat striking

The Hawks needed a scorer to catch fire, and Alex DeBrincat was right on time. After getting 16 points in the Hawks’ first 22 games, he has 15 in their last 17.

‘‘When he’s feeling it, he just gets it through,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘He just finds a way.’’

Colliton’s ideal arrangement has Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and DeBrincat on separate lines to keep a top scoring threat on the ice the majority of the game, and it has worked well the last couple of weeks.

3. Killing penalties

Defense has been a struggle all season, and the Hawks’ penalty kill was a wreck. Through their loss Dec. 11 to the Jets, they were 28th in the NHL in that department with a 74.4 percent success rate.

Since then, they’ve been closer to the league average at 78.9 percent. They had a streak of 10 penalty kills against the Predators, Stars, Avalanche and Panthers before Mike Hoffman scored a power-play goal late in the second period Sunday.

‘‘More aggressive up ice, aggressive in the zone, trying to limit time and space on the power play,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘It’s their most skilled players, so we don’t want to be giving them a ton of time to process and feel comfortable and see their options. I think that’s improving.’’

It has been going well on the flip side, too. The Hawks have scored on 22.2 percent of their power plays in the last seven games, up from about half that before this run.

4. Early urgency

The games are harder when the Hawks spend most of the night clawing to get even, then hoping they’ve still got enough burst to complete the comeback.

For a team that has had shaky confidence at times this season — two eight-game losing streaks will do that to anyone — taking an early lead sets a course. The Hawks are 10-3-4 when they score first.

They have scored a first-period goal in five of their last six games and have trailed coming out of the period only once in their last seven.

‘‘I’m not sure what the difference is,’’ center Dylan Strome said. ‘‘I think [we’re] just all coming out a little stronger. We’re getting pucks to the net.’’

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