Compared to most Chicago Blackhawks’ games in the last month, they played better defense and created more scoring threats Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights.
But the outcome was the same: a loss, this time 4-1 at the United Center.
“I thought the first period was really good,” coach Luke Richardson said. “We didn’t get enough to the net but I liked how we skated and we took the body a little more.”
The Hawks are always looking for a little more, especially after losing their fifth straight and ninth straight at home. Since a win against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 12, the Hawks have gone 1-11-1.
“Just gotta keep working our asses off to try to get out of this,” defenseman Jake McCabe said. “It’s not going to come easy.”
Chandler Stephenson and Reilly Smith scored power-play and short-handed goals in the first and second periods for the Golden Knights, respectively. The Hawks faced a three-goal deficit with Phil Kessel’s goal 8 minutes into the third, as Philipp Kurashev’s skate likely helped put that one into his own net.
“The start of the third period wasn’t the greatest, and obviously giving up the short-handed goal, that hurts in the second,” Richardson said. “But, I thought we deserved a little better. Was it enough to win? Probably not.”
The Hawks finally got on the board with 4 minutes left when Jonathan Toews threaded a pass to Taylor Raddysh, who fired from the left circle past Logan Thompson.
“Nice to show some desperation there,” McCabe said. “Should’ve had it in the first couple periods. Goals are hard to come by right now, so you’ve got to play extreme desperate hockey and get a couple of dirty ones to break out of a slump like this.”
But it was too little, too late — Smith also added an empty-netter — as the slump continues for the Hawks.
“Extremely tough,” McCabe said about the home losing streak.
Next up: Minnesota Wild in a back-to-back set starting Friday on the road.
“We’ve got a real good test against a divisional team tomorrow night,” McCabe said. “And they come hard, especially in their own building, so we’ve got to be ready to go.”
Here are five takeaways from the loss.
Richardson returned to using five forwards on the power play, something he has tried a few times this season.
“We just thought we’d have a different look,” Richardson said before the game. “Put Seth (Jones) on the second unit, it’s a little bit more of a shooting mindset and get him into that mode there.
“(Philipp) Kurashev is a really talented player and there’s been times this year where our first unit has done well and had an extended time out there. Want to give him a little bit more opportunity.”
Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said before the game that William Karlsson and Smith would be on alert.
“Those are our penalty killers, the forwards that really like to attack,” Cassidy said. “So for me, it doesn’t change our (penalty kill) philosophy a whole lot other than maybe we can attack when we get the puck back, because they (the Hawks forwards) are not used to defending and skating backwards.”
Take one guess what happened next.
Smith scored a short-handed goal in the second period and Karlsson assisted. But Richardson said he won’t be hesitant to use five forwards again.
On Vegas’ shorty, “we won the faceoff and we turn it over right away,” he said. “I think every team is going to attack us on that, no matter who’s on the ice because there’s only one person back there, usually on top, with the way we play it.
“So we just have to be more responsible with the puck, no matter if it’s Seth out there or Caleb (Jones) or five forwards. There’s a reason why you’re out there, you’re supposed to have high hockey intelligence and we have to make sure we don’t turn pucks over.”
Johnson played his last shift in the second period and didn’t return. Richardson said “he just got banged up, so we’re going to have to wait and see.”
Johnson missed 20 games with an ankle sprain but scored in his first game back Tuesday against the Washington Capitals.
Now, a game later, his status is murky.
“I think he’s just sore,” Richardson said. “He’s trying, he’s doing all the right things, so I think he puts himself in a position where it’s going to be sore.”
The Blackhawk’s move to five forwards relegated defenseman Seth Jones to the second unit. The power play is supposed to be a big part of his game, but he was coming off a rough defensive showing against the Washington Capitals.
Richardson said, “We just talked to him and said, ‘Hey, let’s get things settled here and play good defense when you’re out there on the power play.’ There will be two defensemen, so we’ll have a little more security with that. A little more of a shooting mindset on that second unit.”
Jones has yet to score a power-play goal as a Hawk. He took one of the Hawks’ two man-advantage shots against the Knights, but the power play came up empty.
Including Thursday night, Hawks defensemen haven’t scored a power-play goal in 115 consecutive games, according to NHL Stats.
But that’s not even the second-longest drought in franchise history. They’ve had longer stretches two other times:
- 164 games: Feb. 26, 1967 to March 23, 1969
- 133 games: March 12, 1944 to Jan. 8, 1947
The Detroit Red Wings went 296 games without a defenseman’s power-play goal — from Feb. 13, 1936-Feb. 22, 1942 — the league’s longest drought, according to NHL Stats.
Or put another way, they’ve only scored first five times.
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Twenty opening goals by opponents came in the first period, including Thursday night’s goal by Chandler Stephenson. The Hawks are 3-12-2 when trailing at the first intermission.
If the Hawks forsake defense for offense — a trap Hawks players admit they fall into often — can you blame them?
“Every time we got a chance, they all collapsed as five and took away our second chances,” Raddysh said of the Knights. “They were blocking shots, too.”
That has to be deflating, right?
“I don’t know,” Richardson said. “I think there’s days where you can kind of tell yourself you’re tired just cause you’re mentally tired and your body follows. I think we have to bottle that.”
Richardson said the Hawks have been playing the right way “and we’ve got to stick with that.”
He added, “If we stray from it, it will get ugly. And if we stick with it, I think you chip away at it and you’ll get some bounces some nights. When you get a win playing the right way I think it will stamp what we have to do.”