Blackhawks Crushed by Avalanche in Back-to-Back Losses

After earning 3 of 4 points against the Dallas Stars, the Chicago Blackhawks were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in their second consecutive home-and-home series against a divisional foe. Averaging 12 goals in two games, Colorado defeated the Hawks by scores of 5-2 and 7-3, respectively.

The losses were not only ugly in fashion, but also a stark reminder of the extreme defensive deficiencies that have plagued the Hawks all season. Such deficiencies were all the more apparent in Duncan Keith’s absence.

Keith — who leads all Blackhawk defensemen in ice time, averaging 23:51 per game — was scratched after suffering a groin injury early in Friday’s game. He is the third Blackhawk regular currently injured, joining forwards Drake Caggiula and Dylan Strome, who are out with concussions.

Defenseman Slater Koekkoek was called up to fill the void, as was forward Anton Wedin. Wedin was one of many who have made their NHL debuts for the Blackhawks this year, joining the likes of Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist.

Unfortunately, neither Koekkoek nor Wedin would help much, as the Blackhawks were dominated by Colorado’s speed and physicality.

The game began well enough for the Hawks, as Brandon Saad opened the scoring with a short-handed goal early in the first period.

Colorado’s Nazem Kadri would respond soon after, tying the game with a power-play strike and scoring the go-ahead tally within 1:25 seconds of each goal.

The turning point of the game would occur at the end of the first period when the Hawks were awarded a 5-on-3 power play after Colorado’s Ryan Graves received a double-minor for high-sticking Andrew Shaw. With the score 3-1 Colorado, a Hawks 5-on-3 conversion late in the period could have changed the complexion of the game. Alex Debrincat — who would normally serve as the left-wing on the Hawks’ first unit power play — was replaced by Alex Nylander since Debrincat was still serving a five-minute major for fighting Colorado’s Samuel Girard. Debrincat’s absence was particularly noticeable after Nylander flubbed a one-timer set up by Patrick Kane.

Once Chicago failed to convert the 5-on-3, in addition to the abbreviated Graves penalty to begin the second, it was all downhill for Colorado. Joonas Donskoi and Nazem Kadri would each score two goals; with Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen recording 3 and 4 point nights, respectively.

Goalie Robin Lehner was pulled after Colorado scored to make it 5-1. As Lehner left the ice, he was caught on camera yelling at his teammates on the bench.

“I probably did,” Lehner said in postgame interview. “And it was probably rightfully so. It’s nothing personal. We really like each other in here. I think all the guys care about each other – it’s a good group. It was 5-1 five minutes into the second and we’re not playing good enough. I don’t know exactly what I said, I probably said that we have to wake up. I think my track record speaks for itself. It’s nothing directed to any person or anyone or not toward myself.”

Lehner finished the game with .643 save percentage, allowing 5 goals on 14 shots. In Lehner’s relief, Corey Crawford allowed 2 goals on 15 shots for a .867 save percentage. Neither goalie should be blamed for the loss, considering how their team played in front of them. Defensive miscues and lost-puck battles were all too common from Hawk forwards and defensemen alike.

The only positive from last night’s game was Patrick Kane extending his current point streak to 15 games. Kane has amassed 11 goals and 13 assists during the streak, which marks the most points that Kane has ever accumulated in one month.

In a month that had initially shown promise, the Blackhawks end their November with a 7-5-3 record. Due to their lackluster start of the year, the Hawks will have to string together much longer and more consistent winning streaks to gain the ground they lost in October. Remaining relevant in the Central Division will be tough enough, let alone the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Although they technically finished November with a winning record, two games above .500 will not cut it, especially considering the fact that the Hawks are now dead last in their division and second to last in their conference.

With the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues and Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins scheduled their next two games, the Hawks will have no choice but to find their game quickly and finish December strong. Otherwise, they risk falling victim to yet another lost season that will occur all too soon.

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