- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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EDMONTON -- When an opponent ties an offensive record that Wayne Gretzky set in the early 1980s, the Chicago Blackhawks better believe they have defensive issues. But they knew that long before Edmonton Oiler Sam Gagner helped embarrass them with an eight-point night en route to a 8-4 win by the Oilers on Thursday.
That’s two trips to Edmonton this season and 17 goals given up in all by the Hawks.
“It’s not one thing, it’s not one player,” defenseman Duncan Keith said afterwards in a dejected Hawks locker room. “It’s everybody. It’s everybody collectively having a mindset of playing good defense. Some games the offense isn’t going to be there. When you have a mindset you’re not going to get scored against, you can bring that every night.”
The debate on whether this is about the goaltender or the defense won’t stop but no one can argue when Corey Crawford gave up a weak goal with the Hawks leading 2-0 the momentum changed in the game. Taylor Hall scored short side with Brent Seabrook draped all over him while pushing him to the outside. Edmonton found life on that goal.
“I got a piece of it,” Crawford said. “It wasn’t a straight shot. It rolled up over my blocker. … Our guys deserved better from me.”
Then things started to “unravel” as Joel Quenneville put it. But at 3-3 after two periods the Hawks had as good a chance as the Oilers to win the game. They didn’t bear down.
“It was an easy game for their top players,” Jonathan Toews said. “We let them do whatever they wanted. Tap in goals, left and right.”
Some of those came after Crawford was pulled. He gave up five goals on 19 shots. At that point, the Hawks were only thinking one thing anyway: offense.
“We have to play together,” Duncan Keith said. “We have to play all on the same page. When we start thinking about outscoring teams and scoring goals, it just backfires. When good teams lose games they lose games but they’re in every game. We were in this one but when we get up a goal or two we forget how to play.”
Or the netminder gives up a bad goal. The combination of poor defense and poor goaltending has led the Hawks to where they are: near the bottom of the league in defense. There’s enough blame to go around.
“It’s not about scoring,” Quenneville said. “It’s about checking. And winning games 2-1, 1-0, 3-2 games. That’s how you win in this league. That’s where the commitment is.”
Funny Quenneville says that because he hasn’t seen his team win like that but once all year back in November. And they have zero shutouts through 52 games.
“It’s the whole group of five,” Quenneville said. “We gave them too many open side goals that we’ve talked about all year. We have to be better. We got out of what we want to do. We have to play more patient. We played run and gun and they were better at it by a wide margin.”
Maybe so, but what does any of that have to do with Crawford’s first goal or his last? Cam Barker fired one from the point that went right through his glove to end his night. And in between Crawford admitted he was “scrambling” to make other saves. He didn’t.
“It was pretty much the same thing as last time,” Toews said. “We just didn’t do the right things at all.”
When you give up 17 in two games with two different starting goaltenders it’s hard to put the blame on any one person. If the goalie is better maybe the defense is, if the defense can clear the zone once in a while maybe the goalie is better.
The Hawks better learn fast or get better netminding. Or suffering just a bad loss will be the least of their problems. On Thursday they had more than enough to go around.