Something about November in Winnipeg stumps the Blackhawks.
The Jets shut out the Hawks 4-0 on Saturday, one year to the day after a lopsided 5-1 Jets home win over the Hawks cost then-coach Jeremy Colliton his job.
This loss won’t be nearly as consequential as last year’s was. It marked just the Hawks’ seventh defeat in 12 games, after all, compared to 11 in their first 12 games last season. And it was the Hawks’ first noncompetitive game since the season opener, stopping a streak of 10 straight nail-biters that demonstrated the effectiveness of new coach Luke Richardson’s systems.
But make no mistake, it was an ugly afternoon for the Hawks.
Three power-play goals and a “deflating” shorthanded goal by the Jets blew what was a goalless game halfway through into a rout. Scoring chances favored the hosts 22-2 in the third period and 42-16 overall.
“They’re a good team and they really have mobility on the back end at the blue line,” Richardson told reporters in Winnipeg. “The second half of the game, when they started taking it to us…we just started chasing tails in our defensive zone. You’re not going to get a good result after that.”
The Hawks’ special-teams units, both bright spots during the season’s first few weeks, have begun showing cracks. The penalty kill has now conceded nine goals on 22 chances over the last six games and missed some important assignments Saturday. On the Jets’ third goal, for example, Jonathan Toews drifted too high after a faceoff loss and allowed a cross-seam pass from Kyle Connor to Pierre-Luc Dubois to connect.
Richardson attributed those special-teams struggles partially to a lack of practice time during this grueling stretch in the schedule, which mercifully ended Saturday. The Hawks will enjoy four days off before visiting the Kings on Thursday.
The Hawks’ troubles covering opposing players in transition — often due to what Richardson has described as “over-backchecking” — also re-emerged. The team had focused heavily on that in recent video sessions and saw improvement the last two games. On Saturday, that trend reversed. The Jets found plenty of room on counterattacks and scored their fourth goal during such a sequence, when Jujhar Khaira left Nate Schmidt wide-open on the weak side of a rush.
The most concerning takeaway from Saturday moving forward, however, pertains to a now-familiar topic: Goaltender injuries.
Arvid Soderblom (21 saves on 24 shots) exited the game at the second intermission, forcing minor-league journeyman Dylan Wells — the goalie signed to an NHL contract just Wednesday as functionally the Hawks’ fifth-stringer — into the game. Richardson said postgame that trainers told him after the second period Soderblom “wasn’t feeling good;” he didn’t know anything more about his status.
“It’s definitely concerning with our goalie injuries at this point, but hopefully he’s not too bad,” Richardson added.
Wells did save 12 of 13 shots, creating the lone feel-good storyline of the day, but the Hawks will not want to have to rely on him again. They desperately need Petr Mrazek to fully return from his groin injury by Thursday as expected. Mrazek, Alex Stalock (concussion), Soderblom (undisclosed) and Jaxson Stauber (eye) are all currently unavailable.
“[Playing in the NHL has] been a goal of mine since I was a kid, so I’m really happy,” Wells told reporters in Winnipeg. “When I got told I was going in, it was just, ‘Keep the mindset simple, stop the puck.’ And I did a decent job of that.”