New reality setting in for Blackhawks: They’re good until they’re not
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
EDMONTON, Alberta — Take heart, Blackhawks fans: Even coach Joel Quenneville seems to feel your pain.
‘‘Everything we tried to do tonight, nothing worked,’’ Quenneville said after the Hawks faded again after a strong start in a 4-0 loss Thursday to the Oilers at Rogers Place. ‘‘So we’ll continue trying things. It’s not going in our direction.’’
After a promising start to the season, the Hawks (6-5-3) have hit their first significant bump on a three-game road trip to Canada. They allowed two third-period goals with Corey Crawford in net and Patrick Kane out with an illness in a 4-2 loss Wednesday to the Canucks, then missed opportunities in the first period against the Oilers eventually burned them with Kane back (but not 100 percent) and Cam Ward in goal. The Hawks face the Flames on Saturday at the Saddledome in Calgary.
The Hawks are 0-3-1 after a 6-2-2 start and have been outscored 17-6 during that span. It’s still early, but Quenneville isn’t dismissing this lull as part of the process of a long season. He benched veteran Chris Kunitz last week and Nick Schmaltz against the Oilers. He played Kane and Jonathan Toews together at one point against the Oilers.
Asked about defenseman Connor Murphy’s role when he returns from injured reserve — presumably later this month — Quenneville said plenty about his current defensive lineup with just a few words: ‘‘I look forward to having those concerns.’’
And asked about encouraging factors after strong first periods against the Canucks and Oilers went for naught, he didn’t exactly accentuate the positive.
‘‘Segments of games,’’ he said. ‘‘Last 10 minutes [Wednesday] night, not good enough. [Against the Oilers], there were significant stretches that were not good enough. So don’t be satisfied.’’
This is relatively new territory for Quenneville and the Hawks with Crawford healthy. While hardly in dire straits 14 games into the regular season, for the first time in years, there doesn’t appear to be a switch to be flipped. Crawford is back and playing well, yet the Hawks are 3-3 in his starts. Kane is off to the best start of his career — 11 goals and 18 points in 13 games — and Toews looks rejuvenated at 30, but the Hawks have lost more games than they’ve won (counting their overtime defeats).
And they’re struggling to parlay credible performances into victories. It’s not like they’re uninterested or uninspired and need to snap out of it. This is what the Hawks are: sometimes good, sometimes not good enough.
‘‘I thought going into both games [against the Canucks and Oilers], the approach was businesslike and what we’re looking for,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘And then as the game goes on . . . ’’
‘‘I thought obviously [against the Canucks] missing Kaner [was costly and] may have made a difference [against the Oilers]. But it was what we gave up. I thought we could have done a better job.’’
But it’s still early November. There’s still enough time for the Hawks to define themselves — one way or the other.
‘‘I don’t know if the frustration level is high,’’ Toews said after the loss to the Oilers. ‘‘For the most part, we’re involved and we’re in the game, giving ourselves a chance to win for the majority of the 60 minutes.
‘‘It’s just small areas and small moments of the game that we seem to give up control that can be deciding factors. If we can identity those moments and be stronger and simplify and be better and tougher to play against, we make ourselves a much tougher team to beat. It’s a long season. I think it’s a huge positive that we’ve got a lot of talent in our room, and there’s ways we can bring it to the surface a little more.’’