The frustration was evident all over Seth Jones’ face even as the question was being asked: How can the Blackhawks create more offense from their defensemen?
After a 4-2 loss to the Devils on Sunday, the team remained tied for last in the NHL with just one goal by their entire defensive corps. The woeful Sharks and top-heavy Capitals are their only company in that category; 28 of the league’s 32 teams boast at least three goals from defensemen.
“Yeah, we just need more goals,” Jones said, wiping his brow. “We need to make more plays on the blue line.”
The Hawks held a players-only team meeting for about 20 minutes following the final horn Sunday; elder statesmen Corey Perry described it as a “heart-to-heart.” Brutal schedule or not, the team is understandably displeased with their 4-7-0 record, especially considering they’ve yet to string together consecutive wins at any point.
Another quick start led by Taylor Hall gave way to another poor second period and a too-little-too-late third period. The Devils finished with 21 high-danger scoring chances to the Hawks’ eight.
“The more that we can rely on each other, the more you can grow as a team,” forward Ryan Donato said. “Obviously tonight, it hurt a little bit. A lot of the things that we preach, we didn’t do, and it came back to bite us.”
In Saturday’s more uplifting victory over the Panthers, Nikita Zaitsev — an unlikely candidate to be the first — finally put a goal on the board for the Hawks’ defensive group. But he did so as the second wave of a transition attack, finding a gap in the middle of Florida’s defense while they scrambled back into position and receiving a clever pass from Philipp Kurashev.
That means Hawks defensemen still haven’t scored a single time from the blue line, neither by getting a sly wrist shot through traffic nor blasting a one-timer past a late-reacting goalie.
Entering Sunday, they hadn’t even tested opposing goalies much. They finally got more pucks to the net against the Devils, finishing with 13 shots on goal from defensemen — including six from Alex Vlasic, who returned from his concussion absence — but they were unable to dent sharp New Jersey goalie Vitek Vanecek.
Besides Jones, who’s now tied for 30th in the NHL with 21 shots on goal, no other Hawk ranks among the top 80 defensemen league-wide in that category.
Vlasic is tied for 81st with 14 shots on goal, and Kevin Korchinski — whose focus on limiting defensive miscues has stifled his natural offensive prowess early on — is tied for 123rd with 10. Veteran Connor Murphy has never been much of an offensive threat, but even his shot rate is lagging well behind previous seasons; he has only seven total shots on goal.
“When the forwards are climbing up to the blue line, [we need] to know when to move and create space — when they give it to us — so we’re not just stationary and have no other option other than to throw it down the boards,” Murphy said recently. “[It would help] us to get a little more motion — to be able to walk the blue line and create those angles — to either hit our forwards or get good shots through.”
Of course, it must be noted that the Hawks’ scoring woes aren’t exclusive to their defensemen. They’re struggling team-wide to produce enough shots and scoring chances and, ultimately, enough goals. The forwards — outside of Connor Bedard and a few other mild bright spots — are contributing to that, too.
“We have a few words that we live by on this team — that we came up with before the season started — so we want to live by some of those and hold each other accountable,” Jones said. “It’s not [about] ‘mother-effing’ guys and things like that, but if you make a mistake, your teammate should be able to tell you when you’re wrong and vice versa.”
Of all the players the Hawks allowed to walk in free agency this past summer, defenseman Andreas Englund is the only one experiencing any success so far. That’s an unexpected twist, but he has four points in 11 games for the Kings while averaging 12:07 of ice time.
Ian Mitchell has struggled while bouncing between the NHL and AHL with the Bruins, while Alec Regula has played solely in the AHL in the Bruins organization. Caleb Jones landed on the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate after failing to make the Hurricanes’ roster.
Alex Stalock didn’t make the Ducks’ roster and entered Sunday at 1-2-1 with a .910 save percentage in four AHL starts. Jujhar Khaira has made just one NHL appearance versus six AHL appearances for the Wild. Buddy Robinson is in Russia; Austin Wagner is in Sweden.