BOSTON — While sitting out sick, Jason Dickinson spotted a pattern connecting some of the Blackhawks’ recent goals against. Many of them were being scored by opposing players left open in the slot or in front of the net.
Coach Luke Richardson spotted the same pattern. He pushed the Hawks through a practice drill Friday that emphasized collapsing tighter toward the middle of the defensive zone to protect those dangerous areas.
But it’s one thing to identify a weakness. It’s another thing to take action to strengthen the weakness. And it’s another thing to make it no longer a weakness at all.
Facing on Saturday a Bruins team riding one of the biggest waves the NHL has seen in some time, the Hawks’ weaknesses were not only still present but also exploited time and time again in a never-in-doubt 6-1 blowout loss.
No amount of practice, good intentions or saying the right things could save them.
“When they were able to recover pucks off of battles, we got sucked into puck-watching a little too much,” Connor Murphy said. “They’re good at using our triangles and making passes through us. I don’t think we stayed as patient and as together in the center of our ‘D’-zone [as we needed] to keep those seam passes out.
“It almost looked like they were running a bit of a power play on some of our five-on-five [plays]. That can’t happen.”
In fairness, it was a nearly impossible matchup from the start. The Bruins are 16-2-0 this season, including 11-0-0 at home, having outscored their opponents 75-37. David Krejci’s return from Europe, Brad Marchand’s earlier-than-expected return from offseason hip surgery, Patrice Bergeron’s continued agelessness and David Pastrnak’s continued rise to superstardom have made them by far, so far, the NHL’s best team.
The Hawks, meanwhile, have floundered after their surreal early-season streak. They’ve now lost nine of their last 11, and that losing is starting to dent locker-room morale.
“[When] you go through a stretch where you’re not winning games or things aren’t going your way, then you start tightening up a little bit,” fellow defenseman Jarred Tinordi said. “We have to revert back to that feeling in the room where we were all believing in each other.”
Richardson told his team during morning skate they’d need to give full effort for 60 minutes, because the Bruins will “somehow make you pay” during any one minute of relaxation.
Instead, the Bruins dominated all 60 minutes themselves. Scoring chances favored the hosts 15-1 after the first period and 47-17 overall — the most chances the Hawks have conceded in a game since October 2021.
“I don’t think we played with enough confidence,” Murphy said. “I don’t think we attacked the game enough. We let them dictate plays.”
Consecutive goals by Jake DeBrusk and Krejci late in the second period blew open the floodgates and rendered moot Hawks goaltender Petr Mrazek’s valiant efforts to keep the score close.
Krejci’s one-time blast directly resulted from the Hawks, as discussed, spreading out too much in their defensive coverage. All three Hawks forwards on the ice at the time — Jonathan Toews (the Hawks’ lone goal-scorer), Philipp Kurashev and Taylor Raddysh — were caught clustered together above the faceoff dots and completely out of the play.
“We weren’t strong on killing plays early…and then they really have a lot of movement in the ‘O’-zone,” Richardson said. “[When] we start chasing them around, we get out of our zone structure. And when they do that, seams open up, and that’s when things start going.”
“There’s no reason, in this league, [why] you can’t compete with a team like that. We have to make sure we realize that quickly and not be starstruck.”