The Blackhawks paid dearly for falling behind early to the high-flying Avalanche.
Nathan MacKinnon had a goal and three assists to lead the Avalanche to a 5-2 victory over the Blackhawks on Friday at the United Center. Colorado raced to a two-goal lead within the first 3 minutes, 17 seconds of the opening period and had the Blackhawks chasing the game the rest of the way.
"We didn't start the game at the same time as they did but when we did I think we played well," Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said. "We had opportunities and we had scoring chances and I just think we weren't ready for the game."
Added Blackhawks veteran Zack Smith, who scored his first goal of the season midway through the first period: "It was a 5-2 game (Friday), but I don't think that was indicative of how we played. They didn't have a lot of shots (23), but they play some good hockey over there."
J.T. Compher added a goal and two assists and Pavel Francouz made 34 saves for the Avalanche. The Blackhawks got scores from Smith and Patrick Kane but it wasn't enough as goaltender Corey Crawford suffered the loss.
The Blackhawks fell to 10-10-5 while the Avalanche improved to 15-8-2.
Here are three takeways from the Blackhawks' loss:
Maybe it was too much Thanksgiving turkey or the unusual 3 p.m. start time, but the Blackhawks came out a step slower than the Avalanche and couldn't keep pace.
MacKinnon and Ryan Graves hit Crawford with goals early on and after Smith cut the deficit to 2-1 midway through the first, rookie sensation Cale Makar made it 3-1 Avalanche after the opening 20 minutes.
"Tough start, obviously," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We were chasing the whole game and it's tough to play like that, especially when they have a lot speed. They have a lot of the ability to hurt you when you're pressing and down early. That happened a little bit where we were pushing and … with their speed they were able to create some odd-man rushes."
The Blackhawks came on strong in the second period and out-shot the Avalanche 19-7 in the frame but only had Kane's 13th goal of the season to show for it. The score extended Kane's points streak to 14 games during which the veteran winger has 10 goals and 13 assists.
"(When) you give up a goal that early it creates momentum for them and gets us back on our heels a little bit," Smith said. "So it's always tough when they score that early. We've got to be a little more resilient than that (and) bounce back. Whether it's after the first period or the second period, you've got to find a way. We got down pretty early and you tend to maybe take a few more chances and not make the right plays, so that was kind of the downfall."
Not long after the Avalanche took a 2-0 lead, Andrew Shaw dropped the gloves with Graves, who had tripped up the Blackhawks winger seconds before.
"He clipped my knee a little bit and it obviously upset me," Shaw said. "(And) I was trying to see if I could get some energy going in the building."
That did appear to be the case because Smith scored while the combatants were still in the box serving their five-minute fighting penalties.
"Smith answered the tone and got a puck in the back of the net," Shaw said. "We still kind of died again after that for a bit but I think we played a pretty decent game. I just think our start was a little slow."
Shaw, who had a cut on the bridge of his nose making it look damaged, was asked if it was broken during the fight.
"Ah, it's been broken so many times there's nothing left in there anyway," Shaw said as he moved his nose back and forth. "It wasn't a punch, it was (a) scratching or jersey burn."
The Blackhawks lost defenseman Duncan Keith to a groin injury midway through the second period and will not have him for Saturday's rematch between the teams. Colliton said the two-time Norris Trophy winner will not travel to Denver and that will leave a large hole along the Blackhawks blue line. Keith has not missed a regular-season game since April 6, 2017, a span of 189 regular season games.
"We're so used to having him on the back end doing what he does it's almost like you take it for granted the way he makes plays and what he does offensively and defensively," captain Jonathan Toews said. "He makes the game easier on his own partner and everyone around him, too, so hopefully he'll be back soon. (We're) not used to being out there without a guy like him."
After the game, the Blackhawks recalled defenseman Ian McCoshen from Rockford of the AHL and re-assigned forward Matthew Highmore to the IceHogs.
The 24-year-old McCoshen was acquired by the Blackhawks from the Panthers on Oct. 22 in exchange for Aleksi Saarela. In 13 games with the IceHogs this season, McCoshen had four assists.
"It's an opportunity for guys to show they can do more for us," Colliton said of Keith's injury. "Every team in the league goes through it and we're going to go through it and we've got to find a way to get points anyway."