WASHINGTON — There are no huge games in January. At least, not for the Blackhawks, who haven’t been in any true danger of missing the playoffs in six years, and who have won the Stanley Cup as a No. 1 seed and as a No. 6 seed.
But there certainly are games that carry a little more weight than others, that offer a sterner test. And after sweeping through four middling teams on their recent homestand, the Hawks were looking forward to measuring themselves against two of their fellow contenders this weekend — the Washington Capitals, who came in to Friday’s game having won seven straight, and the Minnesota Wild, who are just two points back with a whopping five games in hand.
Well, the Hawks didn’t measure up at all on Friday night, getting blown out 6-0 by the Capitals in what can only be described as a total team failure. They were awful with the puck, awful without the puck, and it led to the most awful lost of the season, eclipsing a 5-0 loss in Edmonton on Nov. 21. And despite the tougher opponent, this one was somehow far worse.
“We just pretty much did everything we said we wouldn’t do, or weren’t supposed to do,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “That was one of those two or three games that you have a year [when] you’re just being outplayed really bad. That was probably as outplayed as I’ve been in a long time.”
Corey Crawford stops the puck against Washington right wing T. J. Oshie during the first period Friday night. (AP Photo)
The only debate after the game was whether the Hawks should stew on the loss, or flush it.
“You can’t forget these games,” said a clearly fuming Jonathan Toews after the loss. “You’ve got to let them sink in, you’ve got to learn from them You’ve got to use it, get pissed off, and use it the right way, to address the glaring issues that were present.”
Trevor van Riemsdyk, who was a minus-3 on the night, agreed, saying, “It’d be a waste not to try and use that in some sort of positive manner.”
But Joel Quenneville didn’t want anything to do with it.
“Let’s forget about this one, because there’s nothing good about it,” he said.
Yes, the Capitals are very good, as their eight straight victories show. But the Hawks didn’t even put up a fight. The game was over after one period, with the Hawks down 3-0, with plenty of blame to go around. The bottom-two defensive pairings of Brian Campbell-Brent Seabrook and van Riemsdyk-Michal Rozsival struggled. Corey Crawford was off his game. And the Hawks had little to no puck possession, getting outshot 14-5 and out-attempted 30-11 in the first period.
The Hawks have had similarly poor starts throughout the season, but the Capitals actually made them pay for it.
“Ugly start, that’s for sure,” Quenneville said.
The Hawks showed some life in the second period, taking nine of the first 11 shots. But a Vinnie Hinostroza goal was overturned after a coach’s challenge (the referee ruled Marian Hossa, tied up with Brooks Orpik, interfered with Capitals goalie Braden Holtby). The game then effectively ended when Washington had all three shots on a Hawks power play, then made it 4-0 on Tom Wilson’s goal.
Oshie chased Crawford when he made it 5-0 at 8:11 of the third, and Jay Beagle continued his unlikely mastery over the Hawks with his second goal of the game (and sixth in eight career games against the Hawks) with 1:32 to go.
The Capitals had six players with at least two points, and Holtby has now gone five straight games without allowing an even-strength goal. As for the Hawks? Nothing. No player stood out. No unit played well. No silver lining was available.
“I don’t think anyone is happy with the way they played out there,” Hjalmarsson said. “That was just an overall bad performance.”
And Minnesota’s coming.