The Blackhawks had hoped to gift themselves a coveted item for the Christmas break: A three-game winning streak.
Instead, when the Blackhawks fell to the Devils 7-1 on Monday night at the United Center, they continued their pattern of maddening inconsistency. Only once this season have the Blackhawks won three games in a row - they prevailed four consecutive times in mid-November - and standing in last place in the Central Division is the result.
The loss to the Devils came on the heels of inspiring victories on the road against the Jets and Avalanche and left the Blackhawks in a foul mood with three days to think about it before taking the ice against the Islanders on Friday night at the United Center.
"We should be embarrassed," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "If we're going to make progress you have got to give yourself a chance to make progress. It seems like we need to start over all the time. I've made the point in the games (that) we've had trouble stringing shifts together. Well, we have trouble stringing performances together. So you just can't build any momentum."
Video: Toews on loss to NJD
The prevailing wisdom is that the Blackhawks need to pile up points in a hurry to turn things around in the Central, something along the lines of, say, an eight- or nine-game winning streak, right?
"No - it's not the way it is," goaltender Robin Lehner said. "Things get bad when we start saying, 'we have to go win 10 in a row.' No, let's win two out of three for the rest of the season. Try to win as many of those three segments as possible. That will get us there. Instead of, 'Let's go win 10 in a row, do two out of three' because these are close games in this league and the puck might bounce the wrong way."
"Lose the first one and you know you have to win the next two," Lehner continued. "You win the first two and you're able to win three, that's good but you have to be able to have some perspective on it: There are a lot of good teams in this league and it's a heavy schedule. If we get on a roll, we get on a roll. But it has to be realistic and good consistency."
There's that word again: Consistency. A lack of it has been the one constant for the Blackhawks this season and Lehner said there is a reason for it.
"We're not playing the right way," Lehner said. "Consistency is going to come when we consistently play the right way."
Which is what, exactly?
"Not turning the puck over and letting up odd-man rushes all game long," Lehner said. "It's putting the puck in deep, stop turning the puck over at the blue lines and be more patient like we've been the last couple of games.
"When we dominate we take care of the puck, we cycle, we work hard, we dump it deep and we don't turn it over," Lehner added. "When we play bad we're just out there dangling and giving the puck away and give up odd-man rushes."
Colliton also pin-pointed the areas where the Blackhawks are lacking consistency.
"When we've given ourselves a chance with our habits and being sharp and starting on time and play away from the puck, then we've come through a lot," Colliton said. "Where we get in trouble is when we don't start on time and we get self-inflicted wounds and our shift lengths are too long and we turn the puck over."
Video: Colliton on loss to Devils
In a way, the Blackhawks are a team still searching for its identity and Colliton believes it will be a work-in-progress until everyone is on the same page.
"As far as being able to consistently do the right things over and over again, we're building a mental toughness to be about to do that," Colliton said. "Shift to shift, every single shift, game after game, we have to build on the next one. We want to string multiple good performances together, and at the end of the day you probably get the result you need."
The Blackhawks' inconsistency "is easily fixable," according to captain Jonathan Toews.
"We've said it for a while now, especially when we've had some lackluster efforts in our our building, that you're going to have nights when pucks aren't bouncing your way and you're going to be fighting it a little bit and the legs aren't there," he said. "Whatever the excuse is, we have to find a way to play through that and simplify our game."
With 44 games remaining in the regular season, there remains time for the Blackhawks to make a run and Colliton reiterated that "we're going to keep trying.
"I think players have responded really well at times and then others we haven't," Colliton continued. "So we need to not accept less both as a coaching staff and as a group. We're in it together, the players and the coaches, and we're going to continue to have discussions about what is the button that we need to push to bring it every night. Until we find it, we're going to be in this one step forward, one step back or two steps back-type of situation. So that's where we're at."