CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s speeches haven’t included, “Let’s just play 40 minutes of great hockey,” but it may seem like that way lately.
Shooting, scoring and leading haven’t been issues for the Blackhawks through two periods this season.
The Blackhawks have averaged 11.6 shots and 1.3 goals in the first period and 12.2 shots and one goal in the second period. They’ve led after two periods in five of their six games and have outscored opponents 14-6 after two periods.
Third periods have been a different tale for the Blackhawks, and the reason why they’re 4-1-1 instead of being undefeated. The Blackhawks’ averages have dropped to 7.8 shots and 0.5 goals in the third period, and they have been outscored 8-3 during that time.
The Blackhawks' game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday was the latest evidence of their third-period struggles. The Blackhawks led 2-0 after two periods, but the Hurricanes stormed back with two goals in the final 20 minutes and forced overtime. The Blackhawks won in a shootout.
“We’re doing some good things to get ourselves the lead,” Quenneville said after Wednesday’s practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West. “We just haven’t been able to distance ourselves and make it a little bit easier on ourselves. Every game has been tight right until the end.
“I like the way we started in games. I like the fact we’re playing ahead most of the game. But whether it’s the killer instinct, whether it’s finding that extra insurance goal, you’d like get it maybe where it’s not as tight. I think we’ve played a lot of games like that in the last few years.”
This season has mirrored last season in a lot of ways already.
One similarity is playing in a lot of one-goal games and having success in them. The Blackhawks have played in five one-goal games this season and are 3-1-1 in them. They were 19-3-5 in one-goal games last season.
The Blackhawks also dominated opponents through two periods last season and had closer third periods. The Blackhawks outscored teams 50-31 last season in the first period, 50-31 in the second period and 44-35 in the third period.
Quenneville thought it was only natural for losing teams to push harder in the third period and create scoring chances. He believed the Blackhawks had to find a way to counter that.
“I thought we had real good stretches in those games, and where all of a sudden teams are going to have their moments where they’re going to have some success,” Quenneville said. “They’re going to have some shifts in your end. They’re going to have scoring chances. We just want to limit it as best we can and make sure when they are going to be gambling or looking on the offensive side of things, we can exploit that and make them pay for it.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews thought it was only a matter of time before the Blackhawks begin capitalizing more on their own chances. While they’re averaging 34.2 shots per game, which ranks third in the NHL, they’re 14th at 2.8 goals per game.
“That’s a good thing,” Toews said of the scoring chances. “You’re playing well, doing things right and you’re getting those chances. It’s the way it goes sometimes. They don’t go in. Sometimes you can talk about you don’t play so well and you get bounces and things go your way and the pucks start going in.
“It’s not something you can worry about. You just got to stay loose and keep playing the same way. I think as a line, [Patrick Kane], [Bryan Bickell] and myself, we’ve been getting a lot of chances. We’re kind of reflecting that whole thought. We’re not going to get frustrated. We’re going to keep working. We’re playing well l as a line. We’ll start getting the bounces pretty soon.”
As for closing out games, the Blackhawks had a similar issue in late March and early April of last season. They were outscored 11-5 in the third period during a span of six games. They won two of those games in regulation, lost two in regulation, won one in a shootout and lost one in a shootout.
The Blackhawks made improving in the third period a focus during that time last time and followed those six games up with a seven-game winning streak.
Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad is looking for a similar approach now.
“I think it’s just being more focused,” Saad said. “It’s no letup. You might seem to think you’re up a couple of goals, and you can letdown a little bit, but in this league there a lot of good teams, and we got to stick to a full 60 minutes. We’ve been through it before. We’re familiar with it. Hopefully, it stops.”