The Chicago Blackhawks, coming off of a four day layoff that saw them get their last period of sustained rest that’s left on their schedule, scored four goals but couldn’t get their defense going as they fell to the Los Angeles Kings 5-4 at the United Center on Monday night.
What exactly went wrong in this game for the Hawks?
Here are three lessons they’ll need to carry forward into Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames:
Losing Puck Battles is a Losing Recipe
The Blackhawks came out strong on Monday, and just like in their first two meetings with the Kings this year, they dominated puck possession and scoring early. After that first 20 minutes, however, everything fell apart.
The Hawks continuously got outworked in the corners for the puck. The LA forwards did a great job of attacking the puck carriers of Chicago and forced them to give up the puck and just beat the Hawks to every spot on the ice.
The two plays that really stuck out were the late period goals that the Kings netted. The first one, at the end of the second period, was a wonderful blend of failure on the Chicago side. Johnny Oduya did a bad job of sealing LA defenseman Drew Doughty off from the middle of the ice. Viktor Stalberg lost his stick and essentially quit on the play. Niklas Hjalmarsson made a half-hearted pokecheck attempt instead of trying to force Doughty away from grabbing his own rebound. And finally, Corey Crawford allowed a pathetic soft goal to top all of it off.
On Brown’s goal at the end of the third, Brandon Saad did a bad job off of the lost faceoff, and allowed Brown an open seam to the middle of the ice. Crawford overplayed the initial shot off the draw, but the onus on that goal has to be partly on Saad as well.
Losing Face-offs a Killer
Early on in the game, the Blackhawks were doing really well in the faceoff dot. Marcus Kruger and Dave Bolland, who have both struggled in the circle this year, won 6-of-8 draws in the first period, so the table seemed set for a good night in that area.
Just like in the possession game, however, the victory was short-lived. Their numbers overall for the game were good, but repeated losses on the draw on the team’s pathetic power plays (more on that in a bit) and late in the game really cost Chicago. When Jonathan Toews tied up with Anze Kopitar on that fateful final goal by the Kings, no one came over to help him, and as a result the puck was fired off of Oduya’s back and right onto the waiting stick blade of Brown.
If the Blackhawks are going to acquire a second line center, then they need to find a guy who is able to win some face-offs, because outside of Toews and Jamal Mayers, no one seems to be capable of doing so with any consistency on this club.
Lack of Discipline a Killer
When the calendar flips to playoff time, most hockey pundits will preach at fans of the game about how the most disciplined teams end up winning series. They will say that punishing mistakes a crucial component to success, and to a large degree, they are right.
The Blackhawks played like a team completely devoid of discipline on Monday. Aside from the slew of lost puck battles, there were three plays that reeked of a team that really wasn’t using its collective brain power to full effect.
Early in the second period, Patrick Kane took a horribly ill-advised boarding penalty when he drilled LA defenseman Rob Scuderi into the boards from behind. On a similar play in the third, Michael Frolik did the exact same thing. Granted, neither penalty turned into a power play goal, but when push comes to shove, veteran players like Kane and Frolik have to realize that if a player has their back turned, the defender has a responsibility not to hammer them with a hit.
The third play was also one that didn’t result in a goal being scored, but easily could have. After the Hawks had killed off the Frolik penalty in the third, Dave Bolland casually skated up to the neutral zone and, well short of center ice, flipped the puck into the Los Angeles zone for a careless icing.
Those kind of brain-cramps simply cannot happen if a team is serious about being a Stanley Cup contender, and head coach Joel Quenneville needs to preach discipline aggressively as this team moves forward.