CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville craves consistency, but the defending Stanley Cup champions haven't provided much of it yet with 20 games left in the regular season.
The Blackhawks (38-19-5) still lead the Central Division after a 6-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild in the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday, but there are issues to address.
For most of this season, Chicago has been great or bad without many games that fell somewhere in between. A five-goal loss to the Wild (27-22-10), after the Blackhawks had won their previous two games by a combined 12-5 margin, reinforced that.
"I guess part of it is maybe experience," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, referring to a roster with 13 first or second-year players. "In some of these games where we're off, especially against a team that's buzzing, that's playing really well, we need to do a better job of managing the puck and managing chances against. So, maybe there's some experience in that. We've got to find ways to be smart and to limit the offense we give up. Again, we didn't do that [Sunday] and it was an ugly score at the end there."
Chicago has allowed four-plus goals in 14 games, going 2-12-0. Last season the Blackhawks allowed four-plus goals in 17 games (3-14-0). They've scored four-plus goals in 24 games (22-2-0) after scoring four-plus 29 times last season (28-1-0).
The biggest difference is on defense and Minnesota exposed the coverage lapses with speed and a strong puck-possession game.
"I don't know exactly how to explain it," said Blackhawks defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk, who finished with a minus-2 rating. "We felt really confident coming in that we were really well prepared. The coaches did a great job of showing us what [the Wild] like to do [and] what their tendencies were. I know I myself didn't execute very well [today]. Obviously that's not what we wanted."
Chicago has three days off to go through a self-assessment prior to hosting the Nashville Predators on Thursday. They might also reflect on a 1-3 record in outdoor games.
"You can look at it any different way," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who scored his 35th of the season at 12:05 of the third period. "We try to view it as another game, but at the same time, we wanted to be better than we have been in these outdoor games, especially when the NHL kind of keeps counting on us to play in them. It'd be nice to end up on the other end, but today was obviously a tough one."
Prior to replacing former coach Mike Yeo with interim coach John Torchetti on Feb. 13, the Wild had lost eight games in a row and 13 of 14. They've since won four straight after Torchetti took over and defeated Chicago in all three games this season.
"It seems like they're excited every time they get a chance to play us," Kane said. "Especially in games like this, they're fighting for two points as hard as anyone. This is basically a playoff game to them, so they can get into the playoffs. We've got to be more ready to play, I guess you could say. At the same time, you can look at our past three or four games ... you know, up and down, so we've got to figure it out before the end of the season."
Video: CHI@MIN: Kane puts the Blackhawks on the board
This was one of the down ones. Just about everything that could've gone wrong for the Blackhawks did.
Matt Dumba gave the Wild a lead 3:25 into the game by cleaning up the second of two shots by Ryan Carter while left unchecked in front of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.
The Blackhawks committed four first-period penalties and eight for the game. Two were called on one play against rookie forward Phillip Danault, which led to Thomas Vanek making it 2-0 on a power play at 7:10.
Chicago's self-inflicted damage happened in the offensive zone too. Rather than cutting Minnesota's lead to 2-1 at 10:15 of the first on an apparent goal by defenseman Duncan Keith, the score remained 2-0 because Toews interfered with Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk.
In the second, defensive coverage problems by the Blackhawks led to two more Wild goals, scored by Nino Niederreiter at 2:26 and Jason Pominville at 10:26. Chicago lost defenseman Michal Rozsival at 15:14 after he was assessed a game misconduct for a hit that knocked Wild forward Jason Zucker out of the game.
In the third, Carter made it 5-0 at 2:25, Kane scored at 12:05 and Erik Haula was given a goal at 13:49 after Kane tripped him on a breakway with the Blackhawks' net empty.
Kane also showed the Blackhawks' level of frustration in the third, when he slammed his stick against the boards on his way back to the bench. Even that didn't work; the stick didn't break.
"There are no excuses in this room," Crawford said. "We're professionals. Everyone has a tough schedule at some point ... It was a little embarrassing out there to be honest. To have our fans come and watch that, it was definitely a tough one to swallow. But [it's] a lesson we can learn going forward here."