The Blackhawks vowed to respond after an ugly loss to the New Jersey Devils in November at the United Center— blowing a 4-1 lead in a 7-5 defeat — and they did.
They won four of their next five games (4-0-1), losing only to the red-hot Lightning 3-2 in overtime at Amalie Center. Then they lost their next five games (0-3-2). They won the next five after that (5-0-0). Now they’ve lost two in a row — 4-0 to the Stars in Dallas and 4-1 to the Devils at Prudential Center on Saturday night.
At some point, this hot-and-cold pattern eventually will be defining. Still too early to say that? It gets late in a hurry, even in an 82-game NHL regular season. This might be what the Hawks are — a .500 team still talented enough to have hot streaks, but flawed enough and old enough to have cold streaks as well.
“Not at all,” captain Jonathan Toews said when that possibility was brought up after the loss to the Devils on Saturday night. “I think we played some great hockey before the last couple of games. Ran into two good teams that play well at home.
“We can be better defensively early in games and not get behind the eight ball. You can hang in those games and you know what it comes down to. I think you’ve got to hang onto your confidence. You gotta keep that momentum. You gotta play well early. We didn’t do those things the last couple of games.”
The Hawks might or might not be Stanley Cup contenders. But as these hot-and-cold streaks continue, this much seems painfully true: After years of being conditioned to think like the hunted, they have to accept the reality that they are now the hunter. They have to go in with the mindset of the Hawks teams that were chasing the Cup instead of the teams that were defending it.
That might be impossible. The Hawks know they have to avoid bad starts like they had against the Stars and Devils. But they struggle to actually do it. And they don’t know why that is.
“That’s a good question,” Toews said. “You just gotta learn from games like this. You have to grow as a team. I think that’s what experience is. The next time around, kind of foreseeing what might happen — especially in a building like [Prudential Center] when you’re on the road against a team that can skate, that can move the puck like they do. You gotta see that coming. It’s up to us as a group to be better prepared for the first [period] than we were [Saturday] night.”
After 35 games, the Hawks have won 17 and lost 18 and have 39 points. That’s their lowest point total at this point of the season since 2010-11, when they were racked by salary cap losses after winning their first Cup and also had 39 points (18-14-3).
That 2011-12 team backed into the playoffs on the final day of the…