Blackhawks doomed by another poor start in loss to Senators

KANATA, Ontario — The Blackhawks‘ first-period pendulum swung back to the bad side Thursday.

After a terrible start Saturday against the Sharks followed by a terrific start Tuesday against the Flames, the Hawks conceded the game’s only two goals within the first seven minutes of a 2-0 loss to the Senators — their 12th shutout defeat this season.

“[It was] probably the complete opposite of our first period against Calgary,” coach Luke Richardson said. “Credit to Ottawa, they out-skated us and outworked us. They were the team that played and traveled last night, and we just didn’t match that.”

Said forward Ryan Donato: “We keep on talking about our starts, and they’ve got to be better. It’s not too difficult if you just start on time, right? It seems to be difficult for us right now.”

Donato claimed the Hawks talked about the same things before the game as they did Tuesday, when they established targets of 10 shots and 10 hits for the first period and the set-in-stone objectives worked some psychological wonders. No wonders were worked Thursday, however.

Claude Giroux scored a shorthanded goal for the Senators just 36 seconds into the game, capitalizing on a three-on-two rush. Philipp Kurashev and Seth Jones turned the puck over at the blue line and Kurashev, Connor Bedard and Tyler Johnson didn’t exactly hustle much to try to help Jones and Nick Foligno defend the counterattack.

“We got on the power play and we’re thinking we’re going to do some good things — you think the game is going to go well,” Donato said. “We’ve got to be mentally tough and battle back, and obviously we’ve got to work on some things to hopefully get back into that.”

Senators forward Parker Kelly tallied the only other goal when Bedard attempted an ill-advised bank pass off the boards in his defensive zone, Kelly flung the puck toward the net and Nikita Zaitsev attempted an ill-advised bat-down that actually deflected it past Petr Mrazek.

Zaitsev exited with an injury after the first period, jumbling the Hawks’ defensive pairs out of necessity. Richardson described Zaitsev’s absence as due to a combination of an illness and a nagging upper-body, calling him “not good enough to compete in the NHL tonight.”

The forward lines were jumbled just as much, but that was voluntary as Richardson searched for a spark of any kind. The Hawks eventually recognized they couldn’t penetrate the Senators’ neutral-zone structure and elected to dump and chase the puck more often, but that didn’t yield much fruit either.

The Hawks were credited with only 12 scoring chances, matching their lowest total of the season (Nov. 12 against the Panthers). Senators goalie Anton Forsberg, a one-time Hawk, didn’t have to do much to earn his second shutout of the season.

“We really didn’t have the puck a lot,” Richardson said. “We did turn the puck over in the neutral zone … and [the Senators] played fast. So anytime they got it, we were chasing them.”

Mrazek started Thursday because he asked to, Richardson said. The Czechia native embraces Ottawa as his unofficial North American hometown since he played junior hockey nearby.

He was unquestionably the Hawks’ best player, making 32 saves — including some high-grade stops that kept the Hawks alive long enough to pull him for an extra attacker in the final minutes.

Richardson said backup goalie Arvid Soderblom, who might as well get some reps down the stretch to see if he can close out his disappointing season on a higher note, will start one of the two remaining games on the road trip against the Flyers and Islanders.

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