Blackhawks searching for answers after rough start to season
By JAY COHEN
CHICAGO (AP) Forget about winning for a moment. The Chicago Blackhawks are still looking for their first lead of the season.
One of their best players is sidelined by the NHL's COVID-19 protocol. The team's long sellout streak - a source of pride for the franchise - is over.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Chicago has during an embarrassing 0-5-1 start for a team with playoff aspirations. A summer of optimism has given way to an October that included chants of "Fire Colliton!" during Sunday night's 6-3 loss to Detroit, referring to coach Jeremy Colliton.
"We're going through a tough time as a group right now, so it doesn't help if you get negative about it and start pointing fingers," center Kirby Dach said after practice Monday. "But I think we're going to turn this thing around here and get going. Today was a good step."
The players held a meeting after the loss to the Red Wings.
"I think it was good that we did that. You know, maybe it could have been done a game or two before," defenseman Calvin de Haan said, "but it was obviously needed. I think the right things were said at the end of the day in there."
Some early trouble could have been expected, given a flurry of offseason moves and players getting to know one another. Defenseman Seth Jones, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Tyler Johnson were acquired in July trades, and Jake McCabe, another veteran defenseman, signed with the team in free agency.
But over their first six games, the Blackhawks managed just five 5-on-5 goals and were outscored 27-12. At 360 minutes, 57 seconds, their season-opening streak without a lead is the NHL's longest since at least the 1979-80 season, according to Sportradar.
Patrick Kane, Riley Stillman, Jujhar Khaira and at least two assistant coaches missed the loss to Detroit because of the NHL's COVID-19 protocol. Kane is tied with Jones with a team-high four assists and leads the Blackhawks with five points overall.
"It's not a good feeling right now," captain Jonathan Toews said, "and it's easy for your confidence to shrink when you're going through something like this."
Sunday night's crowd of 19,042 stopped Chicago's sellout streak at 535 games. In a statement, Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz thanked the fans for their support over the years and said the organization "is actively building toward more competitive play on the ice as well as an experience that invites fans back following the COVID-19 pandemic."
The empty seats and "Fire Colliton!" chants, along with the occasional "Let's go Red Wings!" coming from a vocal group of fans in the upper deck, likely got Wirtz's attention. But there has been no substantive word from Wirtz on the team's abysmal start.
The players, though, are publicly supporting Colliton during the coach's fourth season. Asked Sunday night if the team has faith their coach, Toews replied: "Of course."
"There's details to our game that when we've done them and we've stuck to them, we have four lines rolling that do things right, it's a fun way to play and everyone feeds off of it," Toews said. "But we just haven't done it enough."
The Blackhawks, who host John Tavares and Toronto on Wednesday night, might be able to find a solution to their tough start in the one area of their game that seems to be working at the moment: special teams.
Heading into Monday's NHL slate, Chicago's penalty kill ranked fourth in the league at 90.9%. Its power play was 10th at 27.3%.
"Special teams have been pretty good," Colliton said. "I think we're really focused when we're out there. We understand exactly what we're trying to do, and I think the players are taking a lot of pride in the little details that make a difference. Then you have a chance to have success.
"So 5-on-5, it's no different. There's details that matter, and you got to do it every time."
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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Updated October 25, 2021