NEW YORK — The legs were there at times, but not always. Some of the passes were off the mark, most weren’t as crisp as they usually are between various Chicago Blackhawks. The net-front presence wasn’t what it needed to be.
Call it post-Olympic effect. Call it out of sorts after not being together for the better part of 20 days. Call it whatever you will, but it wasn’t typical Blackhawks hockey.
Peter Regin scored his first goal with his new team with 11.6 seconds remaining, but it wasn’t enough as the Blackhawks lost 2-1 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. The Blackhawks narrowly avoided their second shutout in as many games — the Phoenix Coyotes blanked them 2-0. In fact, the Blackhawks almost tied it as time ticked to zero. But Cam Talbot made one more stop with Patrick Kane on the doorstep, preserving the victory.
Corey Crawford stopped 22 of 24 in the loss. The Blackhawks welcomed their 10 Olympians back this week, as they joined practices on various days. Be it not being together for the past few weeks or just a rough night, the results didn’t show on their side. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks “were a little off,” and was mostly frustrated with the net-front traffic — or lack thereof.
“Our timing (was off), maybe some of our passing and maybe we were looking for one extra play. They defended well but we didn’t put enough pucks or bodies at the net,” Quenneville said. “It took us a long time to break it but it was an interesting last couple of seconds. Certainly, we need to be sharper than that.”
Kris Versteeg agreed.
“The energy was there; maybe just passes were missing here and there,” he said. “It wasn’t a bad team effort or anything. Their goalie played well as well.”
The off-kilter feeling was there immediately for the Blackhawks. The Rangers had their not-so-sharp moments, too, but they nevertheless got the early lead. Derick Brassard scored to give the Rangers a 1-0 edge midway through the first period. It stayed that way until 4:07 remaining in regulation, when Rick Nash stuck with a play and scored his 19th of the season for a 2-0 advantage.
Regin, who started the game at second-line center and played some at third line later, finally got one through Talbot with less than 12 seconds remaining in regulation. For Regin, Game 2 in a Blackhawks uniform felt better than Game 1 prior to the Olympic break.
“Personally, yeah, I felt more comfortable,” he said. “I had a little better legs today and there’s still more to come there, hopefully.”
Unfortunately there wasn’t more to come for the Blackhawks offensively. While the third period was better for them overall in terms of chances, it was too little too late.
“We could have more net presence,” Duncan Keith said. “Obviously these goaltenders are good. We need guys in front screening the pucks. It’s tough enough to get the shot through when we do. We need guys in front to screen a little bit.”
The Blackhawks didn’t have their best game out of the Olympic break. It wasn’t entirely surprising. It also wasn’t to their liking.
“It’s difficult,” Keith said about getting back into the flow after the break. “It’s not an excuse, though. Obviously New York had the same thing as us. We know we can be better and we just have to think about being more gritty in front of the net, getting pucks out and getting them out to our forwards quicker.”