The Blackhawks cannot find a way to score first.
They’ve conceded the first goal in eight consecutive games. And after a lopsided 7-2 blowout defeat Sunday against the Jets, they’ve lost seven consecutive games. The parallel trends are no coincidence.
“Frustrating is a good word, but I think it’s more exhausting,” coach Luke Richardson said recently. “It takes a lot out of you in this league to play from behind.”
In the season overall, they’ve now conceded first in 17 of 21 games — the last time they gave a scoreboard its first action of a night came back on Nov. 10 against the Kings. And they’ve now lost 15 of those 21 games, including 13 of the last 15.
“If we score [first], maybe it’s different,” Richardson said postgame Sunday. “Maybe we’d dial in a little deeper, instead of playing a little more spread apart. I think it could help, but we can’t just snap our fingers and do it. We have to work for it.”
The Hawks actually believed, for a moment Sunday, they’d finally snapped that weird drought. Andreas Athanasiou poked in a rebound off a Patrick Kane shot and celebrated what he believed to be his seventh goal of the season along with a crowd of 17,611 at the United Center.
But they thought wrong. Athanasiou’s goal was ruled offside on review after a Jets challenge. Not long after, Jets forward Jansen Harkin finished off a lengthy scramble around the net to give the visitors the lead.
The Hawks, to their credit, have occasionally found some traction once they’ve fallen behind in recent games, including a rally to a temporary tie from 3-0 down against the Penguins last weekend.
But they’ve run out of steam before translating most of those comebacks into wins, and on Sunday, no rally came at all. The Jets skated away with the game in the second and third periods.
Saku Maenalanen — a depth forward who entered the night with five career NHL goals — scored twice, his second strike coming on a perfectly placed snipe over Petr Mrazek’s glove. Whenever an opponent receives contributions like that, it’s nearly impossible for these depth-lacking Hawks to keep up.
The home locker room remained closed for an unusual 14 minutes after the final horn, and captain Jonathan Toews spoke once it opened — two common signs of a team meeting.
“Ultimately, we’re in a situation here where we’ve lost quite a few games, and it’s not a good feeling,” Toews said. “It’s easy, when you don’t get those bounces, to let it deflate you. And collectively, we’ve just got to be a little bit more mentally strong and know that we’re in this situation and we’ve got to work ourselves out of it.
“I’m never going to get into the specifics about what’s being said in the locker room. But all in all, we all agree that — as a group — we need to be more mentally prepared. Even if there are nights where it’s a long season and sometimes you don’t have the energy…you’ve just got to find ways to play a better team game and keep yourself in games.”
The Jets’ victory continued a pattern of domination over the Hawks in recent years. They’ve won six of the last seven and 13 of the last 16 meetings.
But even though the Jets will promptly return to Chicago on Dec. 9, the Hawks will be more focused moving forward on two more relevant patterns: Not scoring first, and not winning very often against anyone.
“We can’t just say, ‘Oh yeah, I should’ve done better,'” Richardson said. “We have to act better. Otherwise in the NHL, your time doesn’t last long.”