Jeremy Colliton’s frustration escalating as Blackhawks repeat mistakesBen Popeon November 4, 2021 at 10:27 pm

Jeremy Colliton hasn’t enjoyed the Blackhawks’ 1-8-2 start. | AP Photos

The 1-8-2 Hawks’ lack of progress this season has built up rarely-before-seen exasperation inside the typically mellow coach.

The general idea of Jeremy Colliton’s feedback to the Blackhawks hasn’t changed much over the course of the season so far.

But the fact it hasn’t — the fact the Hawks haven’t been able to make any steady progress based on that feedback — has built up a rarely-before-seen level of frustration inside the typically mellow coach.

After the Oct. 13 opening loss to the Avalanche, Colliton remained optimistic despite the early red flags.

“We didn’t have enough numbers back, and when we did have numbers back, we didn’t sort it out,” he said. “You look at the goals, it’s stuff you wouldn’t expect to happen. I don’t think it will [continue to] happen, but we’ve got to address it.”

On Oct. 18, before the home opener against the Islanders, he noticed the trend but considered it fixable.

“Overall we haven’t been tough enough to beat,” he said then. “We’ve got to be harder to beat. And a lot of that is decision-making, [giving up] too many odd-man rushes the other way… It should be pretty correctable, and that’s something we’ve addressed.”

But on Wednesday, after blowing a 3-1 lead in a 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes — a defeat that dropped the Hawks’ record to 1-8-2 and cumulative even-strength score to 38-15, favoring their opponents — Colliton seemed to snap.

“It’s just another hard lesson, but I would like us to stop learning hard lessons and respond with a change in how we think about the game,” he said.

“It’s the mindset we have. It’s not about that we need the fourth [goal]. We’d like to get the fourth one and we’ll get our chances if we just play solid and smart…but you can’t be pushing so hard for the fourth one that you expose yourself going the other way.”

Called out not by name but by action were the likes of Erik Gustafsson, whose ill-fated half-pinch gifted Carolina a momentum-flipping breakaway goal, and Jake McCabe, whose overly ambitious stretch pass and (seconds later) overly ambitious lunge toward a Hurricanes passer led to the tying goal.

After practice Thursday, Colliton continued fuming. He was barely able to look at the camera as he ranted about what he considers the fundamental flaw in his players’ approach.

“We’re still struggling with…understanding that it’s not the most important thing to try to score every time you’re on the ice,” he said. “[More important is making] defending your first priority and being willing to grind for 60 minutes, because that’s what’s necessary to win.”

(Colliton later identified Dylan Strome, who was inexplicably scratched Wednesday for the seventh time in 11 games, as one of the players to whom he was referring.)

Colliton’s analyses of the Hawks’ breakdowns are largely correct. But it’s nonetheless his job to not only correctly diagnose the issues but also do whatever it takes to fix them, whether that involves better coaching or teaching or changes in personnel or system.

And since those issues haven’t been fixed for nearly a month, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe his implication that the Hawks themselves are simply too dense to comprehend and act upon his wisdom.

To be fair, the Hawks have been inhibited by COVID-19. Colliton didn’t have his full coaching staff for weeks, and he can’t bench Gustafsson, for example, for his repeated errors because there’s no one else to dress. With Riley Stillman (and Jujhar Khaira) ineligible to travel to Canada to face the Jets on Friday, the Hawks had to recall Nicolas Beaudin simply to be able to send a full lineup.

But no singular excuse can justify the Hawks’ four-year-long pattern of defensive ineptitude. They allowed more scoring chances than any other team over the past three seasons, and they’ve allowed the sixth-most so far this season.

Colliton’s exasperation makes sense, but it needs to be directed toward himself just as much as toward everyone else.

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