What Chicago Blackhawks have done, and what they need to do
Now that the dust has settled after an emotional night at the United Center, let's do a little housecleaning and then widen the lens a bit to look at the bigger picture for the Blackhawks as players and coaches get set to enjoy a week off.
Net-net, he's fine
Robin Lehner was hard on himself after a rare rough performance in the Hawks' 4-3 loss to Florida on Tuesday.
"I kind of let the team down today," Lehner said after stopping just 22 of 26 shots. "I should've made a couple more saves."
To be sure, the Panthers' first goal was absolutely preventable. It came at 4:43 of the second period when Evgenii Dadonov converted the equivalent of a three-foot putt by lifting a loose puck over Lehner's glove hand.
After that, the floodgates opened when Frank Vatrano scored at 6:14 and 10:04 to make it 3-0. Lehner is hardly to blame for all of the goals, however, something we'll touch on in a moment.
The bottom line is, the 28-year-old has been sensational of late and he's not going to allow one rough day to spoil that fact.
"I've had a good stretch -- 9-1 the past 10 games," said Lehner, who had a .935 save percentage in those victories. "Today it was a couple of goals that were unfortunate that hurt us a bit.
"That's tough, but it's part of hockey and I've just got to regroup and go on another run."
Seventy seconds after Dadonov's goal, David Kampf won a defensive-zone faceoff and the Hawks worked the puck around their net in an attempt to get up ice.
Slater Koekkoek backhanded a pass up the boards to Alex DeBrincat, but DeBrincat slipped and fell after not handling the puck cleanly.
And that's all it took for the Panthers to pounce.
After a few clean passes in the offensive zone, Vatrano moved into the right slot and snapped off a shot that easily beat Lehner, who appeared to be screened by Olli Maatta, to make it 2-0.
This sequence really irked Jeremy Colliton.
"They have very skilled forward group," the Hawks' coach said. "They're big and they protect the puck well. ... Once you get (the puck) back, we've got to keep it and make clean plays.
"And worst case, move it ahead and allow us to get in our structure from 200 feet away from our net. We turned way too many pucks over."
Despite the fact that Dominik Kubalik has a whopping 15 goals in the last 22 games, the Hawks have kept the 24-year-old rookie on the second power-play unit. Colliton has been reluctant to make a change because he believes Kubalik fits best in Patrick Kane's spot on the right side.
But after the break, the Hawks ought to see if they can tweak things to get Kubalik on the top unit because the power play has managed just 3 goals in the last nine games despite putting 38 shots on net. In those contests, Kubalik has been on the ice for only 11 of 45.5 minutes of PP time.
The Hawks' power play ranks 27th in the league at 15.6 percent.
A month ago, the Hawks were flat-out embarrassed 7-1 by struggling New Jersey and fell to 15-17-6. Since then, they've resurrected their playoff hopes by winning nine of 13 games -- mostly against mediocre opponents. Still, wins are wins, and this team is clearly building confidence at the right time.
"We've had a good stretch," Colliton said. "We've fought and scratched and clawed to get back in the race here."
Now the key is to keep it up once they rejuvenate after the off week because February is going to be a brutal month with the Hawks (24-21-6, 54 points) on the road for 11 of 14 contests.
And look at some of the opponents: Arizona (57 points), Boston (70), Winnipeg (54), Edmonton (57), Vancouver (58), Calgary (57), Winnipeg again, Nashville (51), Dallas (58), St. Louis (68), Tampa Bay (62) and Florida (61).
That's a dozen games against teams that are either near the top of the league or fighting tooth and nail for a playoff berth.
"The break comes at a good time where we can regroup and re-energize," Colliton said. "The challenge is going to be with those two days of practice (in Arizona) to prepare, to come out flying and (have) the same mentality that we've had lately that's allowed us to win games."