CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks have tried shuffling their lines, splitting up defense pairs, talking tough, cutting short a practice and just about any other way you can try to break out of a funk.
Nothing, so far, has worked. Wednesday's 2-1 loss at the United Center to the Phoenix Coyotes is the latest evidence.
Despite jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the first period – a period in which the Blackhawks outshot the Coyotes 14-4 -- another little flurry of goals allowed in the second period eventually led to another home loss.
Chicago (8-9-1) has now lost four straight at home and fell to just 4-7-0 in the Windy City. That's the bad news. The good news is that despite another stinging loss on home ice, the Blackhawks said there are more positives from this game than in their previous three losses at home to New Jersey and Edmonton (twice).
Now it's about patience and not letting the losses wreck their confidence.
"We're not going to turn on each other," said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who got off five shots but didn't record a point. "We're not going to get frustrated and we're not going to get negative. We'll battle through this and we're going to keep believing that we're a good team, because we know we are."
It might be difficult to convince Hawks fans of that, however. They're getting restless in the stands of the United Center and some even let out a smattering of boos following a second period that saw Chicago allow another sequence of back-to-back goals.
"You know, it's just not fun when we can't get things going, especially in front of our own fans," Toews said. "We want to show them what we can do, but we're just going to have to be patient as a team."
Trailing 1-0 early in the second, Phoenix forwards Kyle Turris and Eric Belanger each scored on Blackhawks goalie Marty Turco just 25 seconds apart to give the Coyotes the lead and much-needed two points in the standings.
Meanwhile, back-up goalie Jason LaBarbera shined in his first game since being pulled on Nov. 5 at Dallas after giving up three goals in 35 minutes. LaBarbera also toted a 4.76 goals-against average into the game, but didn't play like it while making 35 saves and getting his first win.
"I haven't had a whole lot of luck," LaBarbera said. "My last start was an early yank, so you always want to get in there and get a good effort in."
Helping him in that effort was some strong defensive play in front of him, as the Blackhawks tried to create scrambles for rebounds near the goal.
"It seemed like their whole game plan was to throw pucks from bad angles and different spots and try to get rebounds and create havoc around the net," LaBarbera said. "Our 'D' did a real good job of boxing out and allowing me to make the initial save and kind of control my rebounds. If there were (rebounds), we had guys there."
All the hard work defending paid off in the second, starting with a goal by Turris. He tapped in a beautiful pass through the crease by Wojtek Wolski during a 2-on-1 rush at 6:23, followed by Belanger finishing off another Phoenix rush at 6:58 by blasting a shot past Turco from inside the right circle.
Both rushes were started by bad bounces off Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who finished with a minus-2 rating. Keith was kept on the bench for a few extra shifts in the second, and Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said it was mainly for poor performance.
Keith, who usually logs closer to 30 minutes of ice time per game, played just 20:55. He is now minus-7 for the season.
"I think everybody has stretches where they're on top of their game and at their best, and some stretches where they're looking to keep themselves in the game and get through it," Quenneville said. "He can be better."
The only goal that LaBarbera didn't stop was shot by Bryan Bickell at 9:22 of the first period. It was Bickell's third goal of the season, which he scored after skating from the boards to the high slot to fire a wrist shot. The puck appeared to hit Hawks forward Fernando Pisani and redirect through LaBarbera's pads.
The goal was first credited to Pisani, but a video review later determined that he didn't touch it and Bickell was credited with his first goal since scoring against Detroit on Oct. 9 in the Blackhawks' home opener.
That play was just one of many good ones for Chicago in the first period. The Blackhawks dominated play in the first, whether it was the result of new line combinations and defense pairings or just a recharged effort to start better at home.
That first period makes the loss even tougher to swallow, as the Blackhawks now prepare for a Saturday road game at Nashville.
"I thought maybe our first period was our best period all year, but it's still so tough to take," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "You wake up in the morning and look at it, it's a defeat and something that we shouldn't let go of right away. We know it's unacceptable and we just need to keep working harder. It's going to come through hard work."
It also better come sooner than later, according to Turco – who said it’s no longer early in the season.
"It's just all about team play and collecting points," he said. "It can get away pretty easy. The Western Conference and Central Division (are) super tough, but nobody's feeling sorry for the Chicago Blackhawks right now. We're the ones who are going to have to pick ourselves up. I know we can do it real soon. We just need to."
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