For a moment in the second period, it looked like the Blackhawks would win their second-straight game on United Center ice. However, the wheels fell off as a 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 deficit in less than four minutes in the second period. The San Jose Sharks added two more goals in the final frame for a 5-2 win, returning the favor from the Oct. 15 game in San Jose, where the Blackhawks won by the same score.
Looking for a Consistent Effort
The Blackhawks stumbled back into the United Center after losing 4-1 to the Blue Jackets in Columbus last night. Head coach Luke Richardson called the game “one of our worst performances of the year.” You’d think the Blackhawks would come out like a house on fire against the Sharks, but that was not the case. San Jose had the first 10 shots on goal in the game, and the Blackhawks didn’t get their first until the 7:28 mark.
Petr Mrazek was the only reason the game headed into the first intermission knotted in a scoreless tie. The Sharks had a 13-6 advantage in shots after one period. At 5v5, they led 22-13 in shot attempts and 7-1 in high-danger shot attempts.
Things got better for a short while in the middle frame. Patrick Kane took advantage of a stickless Kaapo Kahkonen for his seventh goal of the season. Less than seven minutes later, Sam Lafferty tapped in a pass from Andreas Athanasiou to double the lead.
Things quickly fell apart for the Blackhawks as Johan Gadjovich was credited with a fluky goal that hopped over Mrazek’s shoulder. The lead was erased 38 seconds later when Marc-Edouard Vlasic directed the puck into the net with his skate. The lowest moment came 2:41 later when Alexander Barabanov walked around three red sweaters and deposited a soft backhand behind Mrazek. San Jose added two more goals in the third period to turn a 2-0 Blackhawks lead into a laugher.
“You get a little bit of that feeling sorry for yourself, and you end up retreating,” Richardson said after the game. “I thought in the third period because we had given up the lead in the second, we didn’t play as aggressive as we did when we got the lead.”
“When one thing bad happens, we’re not ready to turn the page and get back to what we were doing well. We take a step back. We have to get over that, or otherwise, it’s going to be a long, difficult road to get out of this.”
Ian Mitchell Returns to Blackhawks Lineup
Defenseman Ian Mitchell was back on the ice tonight after being a healthy scratch for all three games on the recent road trip. He took the place of Caleb Jones on the third pairing and second power-play unit. In his seven previous NHL games this season, Mitchell has had two assists, a minus-5 rating, and 36.8 Corsi for percentage (CF%) when averaging 16:41 of ice time.
Richardson has stressed that Mitchell needs to shoot more when he’s in the lineup. The 23-year-old blueliner has five shots on goal in 12 shot attempts. If he wants to remain in Chicago and playing, he will need to be more aggressive in the offensive zone.
“I’d like to see him shoot the puck as much as he can when the opportunity’s there,” Richardson said of Mitchell before Sunday night’s game. “But it always takes a few shifts for a player to get comfortable back in there. The only way you do that is to get in there playing physical right away.”
The Blackhawks’ bench boss added that Mitchell needs to use his positioning and smarts to be a more effective defensive player. If he tries to take bigger players head-on, he will lose more of those battles than he wins.
“He’s not a big guy, but he needs to learn how to kill plays really quick,” Richardson said. You just have to be smarter and get them in the position where they cut back, get through their hands, and get going. So, that’s how he’s going to have to play defense and that works to his game. We’ve talked about it. He just has to make sure that he tries to really put that into his game plan and that he’s not defending a lot. Not that he’s terrible, he competes, but his game is moving the puck, playing offense, and shooting the puck, so that’s what we want to see.”
It wasn’t a shot that made a huge difference Sunday night, but rather an excellent play at his own blue line. Mitchell kept a Sharks clearing attempt in the zone and got it to Kane for the game’s opening goal. His three assists have come in the last four games.
“It was a great play,” Kane said. “He held the blue line, and that’s something we can do more of. He made a great play holding it in. Nice heads-up play not to just throw it back down the wall, but find me in the middle.”
Mitchell finished the night with an assist, two shot attempts, a takeaway, and a blocked shot in 14:38 of ice time. Richardson commended the young defender for calling for the puck during a second-period power play. He said it showed assertiveness and confidence, two things Mitchell needs. Unfortunately, Athanasiou couldn’t put the pass in his wheelhouse, but more plays like that will keep Mitchell in the lineup.
Will There Be Help on the Way?
The Blackhawks had a bit of a roster crunch on their recent three-game road trip. With Jujhar Khaira and MacKenzie Entwistle both banged up and unavailable, Richardson only had 12 forwards at his disposal. So, when Boris Katchouk makes a terrible pass to the middle of the ice for the game-winning goal against, there is nobody to replace him in the lineup.
That might change now that the Blackhawks play seven straight games at home. It will be much easier to get players here for a game or two if need be. I asked Richardson if this is the right time to give a couple of guys from Rockford a look just to change things up, but he didn’t sound too keen on that idea.
“It’s just if we need it,” he replied. “We have to make sure we don’t just call up someone for a call-up, and he’s in the wrong position and the wrong opportunity. Reichel’s not going to come in and kill penalties and be on the fourth line. That’s an energy line. That’s kind of a waste for him and us. So, we want to make sure it fits, but if there’s an opportunity, I’m all ears with the management. We’ve talked about it over time, and we’re trying to find the right time for the right people to have that opportunity.”
Richardson hinted that there might be an addition to the roster with Khaira and Entwistle dealing with their nagging injuries.
“As the season goes along, I’m sure with injuries and bang-ups, we’re in that situation right now, it’ll probably happen. If they’re at home while we’re at home, it’s easier to make happen as well.”
If the Blackhawks want to replace Khaira or Entwistle, the top two options are Josiah Slavin and Cole Guttman. Slavin provides size and a solid defensive game. He has a goal and seven points in 31 games and is one of the better penalty killers in the AHL. Guttman impressed in training camp and has been solid in his first taste of professional hockey. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice and contributes offensively. He has 11 goals and 20 points in 23 games. Another option is Buddy Robinson, who has 54 games of NHL experience, including one this season with the Blackhawks. The 6-foot-6 winger has nine points and 17 points in 30 games for the IceHogs.