Chicago fell 3-2 in San Jose on Tuesday night to wrap up a four-game road swing. Duncan Keith scored his 99th career goal and Brandon Saad notched his fourth of the season late as the Blackhawks tried to climb out of a third-period hole.
Vancouver dropped an overtime contest against St. Louis at home on Tuesday, 2-1. It was the eighth straight game that the Canucks took at least a point from dating back to Oct. 20 with just three regulation losses this season.
In three meetings a year ago, Chicago went 1-1-1 against Vancouver with a 4-3 overtime win on Feb. 7 and a 3-2 overtime loss on March 18 at the United Center and a 4-2 loss on Oct. 31 north of the border. Jonathan Toews (3G), Patrick Kane (3A) and Dylan Strome (3A) all led the Blackhawks in the season series, while Jake Virtanen (2G, 1A) and Josh Leivo (1G, 2A) equaled their three-point pace for the Canucks.
Head coach Jeremy Colliton said after morning skate that Corey Crawford would return to the net against the Canucks and that Zack Smith would replace Dominik Kubalik as the only skater change from Tuesday night.
A bright spot of the Blackhawks offensive front in the opening weeks of the season, Kubalik's even-strength production has fallen off over the last few games - notching a power play goal and an assist on the man advantage against LA and Anaheim, respectively. Colliton hopes that a night off for the 24-year-old rookie and some extra feedback can spark his game back to where it was out of the gates.
"We think, young player and it's a long season, a lot of games," he said. "I think his play's dropped off a little bit. We want to get him back to where he was playing earlier in the year. Sometimes rest and some feedback can do that because we think he can really help us."
"He's such a good skater," Colliton added on Kubalik. "When he's skating both with and without the puck, he's tremendously effective for us. That's what we're looking for."
Coming out of Tuesday's game in San Jose, a lot of the offense's futility has been pinpointed on a high number of offensive zone entries from dumping and chasing with a low success rate.
The focus heading into Thursday night's game is to find ways to create turnovers and chaos to, in turn, knock an opponent out of their defensive shape and be able to bring the puck in more consistently. If they do that, Colliton says, it opens the ice up for Chicago take advantage of their offensive weapons.
"Sometimes you have to chip it in. If the team's set up in their structure, then it's going to be difficult to enter without chipping it," Colliton said Thursday morning. "We'd like to create more situations where they're not setup in their structure, whether it's because you force a turnover in the neutral zone or force a turnover in the 'D' zone where you can transition out of it. We'd like to create more of those opportunities."
That drive to create chaos can also be extended to when they have the puck in the offensive zone.
On Tuesday, Chicago put up their second lowest shot total for a single period this season with just three in the opening 20 minutes. Despite having what Colliton said was a "similar amount of offensive zone play" in the period, a reluctance to shoot the puck or find lanes to do so was the different on the scoresheet.
"You don't give yourself a chance for the puck to go in," he said. "You don't give yourself a chance to get a bounce or draw a penalty."
In the third period, when they did start shooting - perhaps in desperation - the Blackhawks found two goals in 68 seconds.
"I think that's a perfect example of what we need to do," Colliton said of Duncan Keith's 99th career tally - a slap shot from the point through traffic with three Blackhawks forwards in front, an advantage courtesy of an empty net and extra attacker. "Even (Saad)'s goal, there's net drive. (Toews) has the puck but that doesn't go in if we don't have someone at the net either to be an option or to cause havoc and confusion and we need more of that."
It's something we've seen in spurts this season - like a 5-1 win over Edmonton and for stretches of the middle two games of the trip against LA and Anaheim - but something that has to be present over full games and beyond.
"There've been times in games where we've dominated," Andrew Shaw said. "We just need to find that and keep that for an entire 60 minutes and then take it into the next game."
"We've definitely gone through some adjustments but I think we're getting there," Toews said. "We've just got to find some more consistency in our play and find that offensive confidence."