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Monday, December 5, 2011
Slow starts dragging Blackhawks down

By Jesse Rogers



CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have one of the best records in the league when they score the first goal in the game. Unfortunately, they don’t do it enough.

The Hawks have tallied first just 10 times in 28 games this season and over their last 10 games they have scored the first goal just once.

The Phoenix Coyotes took a quick lead on Monday and beat the Blackhawks at the United Center for the second time in a week, 4-3, in a shootout. The point the Blackhawks earned was great -- considering they got down 3-0 before the game was 22 minutes old.

Radim Vrbata
The Coyotes' Radim Vrbata scored the game-winning goal in a shootout against the Blackhawks on Monday.
“There are some games lately where we go down two or three goals in the first or second period and it just seems like it becomes a funk that we can’t get out of,” Jonathan Toews said afterwards. “As a team we did that tonight.”

He meant they got in a funk and got out of it just in time to storm back, but sleepwalking through the first period is no way to play NHL hockey. It’s where many games are determined. The Hawks know that.

“Tough start to the game. You don’t want to give them the lead, we were fortunate to get back in it,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We reversed it in our end too many times. We got better when we got the puck in their end.”

Quenneville mentioned a few other technical adjustments but this came down to competing. They didn’t, until Quenneville pulled goalie Corey Crawford and more importantly, Toews got the Hawks on the board.

“You get the excitement in the building, you get some momentum off it,” Quenneville said of the Hawks’ first goal. “You generate some enthusiasm on the bench and you go off of that.”

Brent Seabrook said the goalie change “sometimes wakes us up, gets us skating.”

So we know why they were able to come back, but why the poor start? It’s been happening way too often lately. The Hawks have now given up more goals (25) than they’ve scored (23) in the opening period. Elite teams don’t do that.

“Just one of those nights. We had a tough start,” Seabrook said, in not much of answer to the early malaise.

The perplexing thing is it was just six days ago the Hawks did about the same thing against a Coyotes team that plays as well as anyone in the league with the lead. In that game they may have had an excuse as it was the first one back from a road trip. Monday, there were no excuses.

“It was looking like the game last week,” Toews said. “We didn’t want to go down that road. We knew we had to be better.”

Apparently, knowing it and doing something about it are two different things. Yes, they woke up in time to get a point but the game started at 7:00 instead of the usual 7:30. Maybe they didn’t realize it.

“We have to remind ourselves if we bring that for 60 minutes we’re going to be a tough team to beat,” Toews continued regarding the comeback. “It’s about bringing that complete game right now.”

Even in some recent wins they aren’t getting the full 60 minutes. Two losses against Phoenix in one week should drive the message home -- if anything can.