Blackhawks’ offensive woes continue in shutout loss to Hurricanes

In an attempt to counter the Hurricanes’ best-in-the-NHL team speed, Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson changed his defensive pairings Monday for the first time in weeks.

But with the Hawks’ offense limping along as feebly as it has in recent weeks, those alterations hardly mattered in a 3-0 loss.

“It just felt like it wasn’t going to drop over that line for us tonight,” Richardson said. “[It’s] tough for the players because they worked hard right to the end, but we have to somehow find a way to score. And if we can score early, we’ll play a little bit more freer and better, less risky. That’s going to be the objective going forward.”

The Hawks (6-6-3), who’ve been shut out in two of their last four games, have scored only seven goals in their last six games and have had only one goal from a forward (Taylor Raddysh against the Kings) in their last four.

They actually looked more dangerous against the Hurricanes than in other recent outings and finished with a 23-22 edge in scoring chances, only the third time they’ve been even or better in that regard. But they couldn’t find a way to beat rookie goalie Pyotr Kochetkov.

“We just need to maybe stick with our process and keep improving on that and not worry about the results,” Jonathan Toews said. “When they come, they come in bunches. You can’t force it.”

As far as the defensive shuffling, Connor Murphy remained with seasonlong partner Jarred Tinordi,but Jack Johnson teamed up with Caleb Jones and Jake McCabe with Filip Roos.

The idea was to balance out the three duos with one offensive and one defensive defenseman in each. The results were respectable aside from Jones committing one of the Hawks’ worst mistakes of the season. He turned the puck over on an ill-advised failed clearance from behind his net in the second period, leading to an easy Hurricanes goal that essentially put the game away.

Johnson nearing return

Tyler Johnson and the Hawks feared the worst when his ankle got stuck in the bottom of the boards and twisted around Oct. 27 against the Oilers.

But less than three weeks later, Johnson fully participated in the morning skate and appears nearly ready to return to the lineup.

“Watching it, I thought it was going to be way worse than what it was,” Johnson said. “It has gotten way better. It’s an injury that sometimes lingers for certain people, but I’ve never had it. For whatever reason, I feel better than a lot of people that normally have it.”

He shied away from giving any specific timeline for his return, and Richardson didn’t offer one, either, but this weekend or next week might be possibilities.

“We have to get him into a few practices, and he has to strengthen that ankle a little more,” Richardson said. “He doesn’t tape it or anything. He likes to go where he can feel a little bit of the pain and gauge it on that. It was good to see him out there.”

Johnson had enjoyed a largely injury-free career up until his arrival in Chicago, but that luck has changed. He played only 26 games last season because of his artificial disk-replacement surgery, and this ankle issue interrupted an excellent start to the season.

He had six points in the Hawks’ first six games, demonstrating strong chemistry alongside Toews. His reinsertion could help jump-start the Hawks’ lagging offense.

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