The Blackhawks ran into a buzz saw in the form of the Avalanche on Wednesday night at the United Center.
Ian Cole had a goal and an assist while Nathan MacKinnon, Andre Burakovsky and Mikko Rantanen also scored to help lift the Avalanche to a 4-1 victory over the Blackhawks.
Ryan Carpenter scored for the Blackhawks but it wasn't nearly enough as Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz made 31 saves to earn the victory. Corey Crawford (32 saves) suffered the loss in goal for the Blackhawks, who dropped to 13-16-6 on the season.
The Avalanche have prevailed in all three meetings between the teams thus far this season, out-scoring the Blackhawks 16-6 in the process. The top line of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog continued to give the Blackhawks fits.
"They're probably a tough matchup for everyone with their speed," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said after the game. "They all can make plays. They're all really difficult to get the puck off a couple of those shifts, those long extended shifts. They're just so good at protecting it and make you work and using cut-backs and yet they're dangerous at every moment. So a lot of speed. I think their compete level is really high and they brought it (Wednesday night)."
Here are three takeaways from the Blackhawks loss:
Duncan Keith, who returned to the lineup after missing nine games with a groin injury, said he believes the Blackhawks need to play with more intensity to get out of their doldrums of five losses in their last six games.
"We have to get a little more emotion," Keith said. "It's not going to just turn around, it's not going to just happen. We need to make it happen. We need to get a little pissed off. We can go over the Xs and Os and everything and all the stuff, but I think everybody, myself included, has to play with a little more energy, a little more grit, being a little mean out there."
Colliton agreed that "it wouldn't hurt" if the Blackhawks played with more emotion, much like they displayed when the Avalanche's Samuel Girard crunched Alex DeBrincat into the boards during the third period. That sent Blackhawks teammate Erik Gustafsson after Girard with the defenseman drawing a roughing penalty.
"I like to see the emotion from 'Gus' when 'Brinksy' got hit there," Colliton said. "That's a positive. We'd love to be able to ... just have that urgency. There were a couple times we had it in the offensive zone and it's 40 seconds so you'd love to see someone change so we can keep the energy level up. Instead of changing, you extend your shift and you wait until the very last second and it goes the other way and you take a penalty or you give up a chance or it turns into their zone time and they're able to flip the game.
"If we're going to manufacture offense when you're down, to me those are great opportunities and that's when you can show a little urgency or desperation in your game," Colliton added.
Colliton said the Blackhawks' last-place standing in the Central Division can wear on the psyche of the team.
"It's a battle - we're not happy where we are," Colliton said. "You'd be crazy to be satisfied. That's a grind, but the only way we're going to improve is if we stick together and take it like we talked about (Wednesday night): First 10 minutes, be sharp, and I think we can be better at that, and maybe we can set the table for ourselves going forward."
Said Keith: "It's frustrating. It's been a long time where we're like this. It's not going to happen unless we do it, the guys in the room here. It's up to us to figure it out and find a way."
Gustafsson agreed that the players have to stick together to turn things around.
"It starts in here," Gustafsson said. "There is no one else that's going to take care of it. It's us here, us players, we have to be ready to go from the start just like (Wednesday). We didn't play well but we (stuck) with it and Corey was playing well in the first and we have to play for him in the second and third. We have to stick together here, there's nothing else we can do."
Keith said he is completely healed from the injury that occurred Nov. 29 against the Avalanche.
"I'm able to go 100 percent," Keith said. "I wouldn't be going back in the lineup if I wasn't, especially with the type of injury I had. We wanted to make sure it's good and it feels good so we'll see how it goes."
Against the Avalanche, Keith was paired with Connor Murphy to start the game and later rookie Adam Boqvist and finished with a game-high six shots on goal, two blocks and a hit in 23:16 of ice time.
"It was good to be back," Keith said. "I tried to have a good gap (and) I felt like I was able to break up a few plays there coming off the rush early in the game."
Keith said the most difficult aspect of the injury was not being able to help his teammates during a rough stretch. The Blackhawks went 3-5-1 during his absence.
"It's been tough," Keith said. "Watching the games it makes it more difficult when you can't be part of it to help."
Keith's teammates were pleased to have their top defenseman and a leader back on the ice.
"We've definitely missed him since he's been out," winger Patrick Kane said. "He brings a lot of stability back there. You can play him in any situation. He's a guy that I think just calms everything down back there. Obviously, he's had a special career with what he's done, a couple of Norris trophies, Conn Smythe (and), obviously, the (Stanley) Cups. The thing about him is it doesn't seem like he's slowing down. He's always trying to improve and always trying to better himself. We welcome that back, for sure.
Said Colliton: "When you don't have him, it certainly highlights what he does for us in all situations, makes the guys he's playing with better. Excited that he's healthy, too, because he was kind of battling it for a while."
With Keith back in the lineup, veteran Brent Seabrook was a healthy scratch for the third time this season. Rookies Dennis Gilbert and Boqvist remained in the lineup against the Avalanche.
"We've got to find a spot for 'Dunc' and we have some young players who have played well," Colliton said. "With where we are (in the standing), we can't expect to make improvements-turn this thing around-if we don't give opportunity to young players."