Post-Sochi sleepwalk dooms Hawks

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
9:54
PM CT
Mazzeo By Mike Mazzeo
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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NEW YORK -- For the first two periods Thursday night, the Chicago Blackhawks looked very much like a team with an Olympic hangover.

Their passes weren’t sharp, they generated few chances and didn’t look anything like the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Then things started clicking in the final frame. But it was too little, too late.

Peter Regin scored his first goal as a Blackhawk with 11.6 seconds remaining, but Patrick Kane's desperation chance in front was denied by Cam Talbot right before the horn sounded, and Chicago lost to the New York Rangers 2-1 at Madison Square Garden.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Toews
David Hahn/Icon SMIJonathan Toews was one of 10 Blackhawks players who went to the Sochi Olympics, perhaps a factor in Thursday's sluggish start.
“I thought we were a little off,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our timing and some of our passing and maybe looking for one extra play. They defended well, but I don’t think we put enough pucks at the net or enough bodies at the net. ... We certainly need to be sharper than that.”

The Blackhawks (35-12-14) had a league-high-tying 10 players play in Sochi, Russia, and it looked like they had trouble reacclimating themselves to the smaller ice surface and their old system. Chicago’s third-ranked power-play unit went 0-for-3 and has failed to score in its past three games. In its past two outings, the league’s most potent offense has generated just one goal.

Quenneville ended up shuffling his line combinations, to no avail.

“We gotta learn from it. We know what we need to do,” Kris Versteeg said. “It’s just keep grinding away and the goals will start coming, and the wins will follow.”

The Rangers (33-24-3) struck first when Derick Brassard stashed home his own rebound midway through the opening period. Brassard’s goal came as a result of a failed clearing attempt by captain Jonathan Toews, who was not made available to reporters after the game.

Chicago outshot New York 13-2 in the third, but fell behind by two when Rick Nash beat Corey Crawford (22 saves) with a wrist shot from the right circle.

The Blackhawks finally broke through when Regin got one past Talbot through the 5-hole. Kane somehow had a golden opportunity following the ensuing faceoff at center ice, but Talbot (31 saves) made the pad deflection, allowing the Rangers to prevail.

“You’re just hoping, hopefully you get a puck at the net and then you get a tremendous look at the net,” Quenneville said. “So it was just one of those desperation plays. ... We’ve had some crazy finishes going back to the Boston game [a 3-2 shootout victory Jan. 19], and tonight might’ve been crazier.”

The Blackhawks can now look forward to their outdoor game Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field.

It's time for their Olympians to get some rest and their players to get their chemistry back.

Chicago has so much offensive firepower. Seems like only a matter of time before the goals start coming in bunches again.

“We did some good things [Thursday night]," Duncan Keith said, "but I thought we’d be a lot better."

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26