NEW YORK — The Blackhawks are clearly making progress under interim head coach Derek King, and it showed again on Saturday against the New York Rangers. But you're not alone if you find yourself wrestling with how to feel about it.
On one hand, the Blackhawks allowed their second-fewest even-strength high-danger chances in a game this season at three. They generated 10 of their own. You're going to win most games with that stat line.
On the other, the Rangers dominated in offensive zone possession time, according to Sportlogiq: 10:19 to 5:39. You're not going to win many games with that stat line, although it should be noted New York had 9:26 of power-play time to Chicago's 2:00.
"It was a tough loss," said Seth Jones, who had two assists and played half the game at 29:34. "We did some good things. I thought we did a pretty good job tonight of really keeping them to the outside. We had good sticks in our D zone, took away a lot of their plays. They love to hit the seam in the offensive zone, cross-ice all the time, I thought we did a decent job of taking most of them away."
It was, no doubt, a gutsy effort by the defense, which was without Jake McCabe (family reasons) and Connor Murphy (concussion protocol). Calvin de Haan drew back into the lineup after missing the last two games with back soreness and Ian Mitchell was recalled from Rockford to play in his first NHL game since Oct. 26.
In that sense, it was encouraging, along with another strong outing by Kevin Lankinen.
"Our D played really well," interim head coach Derek King said following the 3-2 loss at Madison Square Garden. "Mitchy comes up from Rockford and has one of the better games I've seen him play in a long time, and guys were battling. Our D played really well in front of Lanks."
Where the game turned was in the second period.
The Blackhawks led through one period in shot attempts (16-10), shots on goal (7-5), scoring chances (9-5) and high-danger chances (4-0), according to Natural Stat Trick. They took a 1-0 lead into intermission and were in a solid position to grind out another road win.
But at the 3:43 mark of the middle frame, the Rangers were given a four-minute power-play when Henrik Borgstrom was penalized for high-sticking and they cashed in. It swung the momentum in New York's favor.
"We did play a good first, we just have to continue to not get bored with the way we have to play, which is simple hockey," Jones said. "We started turning a couple more pucks over in the neutral zone in that second. They started playing a half-ice game on us. We get tired and they start buzzing around. So managing the puck is the No. 1 thing we have to do well for 60 minutes."
The Blackhawks certainly had their chances on offense as well. They generated eight scoring chances off the rush compared to the Rangers' three and hit at least three posts. It was a reverse fortune from Thursday, which saw the Washington Capitals hit the iron six times.
Heck, even Kirby Dach had a Grade-A opportunity in the second period where he had the whole half of the net but his shot went off Alexandar Georgiev's mask and out of play.
"That's the nice thing, we're getting opportunities," King said. "It's not like we're not getting them. We had some really good opportunities. Dacher hit the goalie in an open net but it hit him right in the mask and it bounces. Why doesn't it bounce in the net? You know, grazes his ear and goes in.
"But we're sticking with it. I think we did a good job, better job in the third of putting pucks at the goalie and getting to the net, so we've got to continue to build off of that."
In conclusion, the Blackhawks aren't satisfied with the result. But all things considered, it was another step in the right direction and they have no choice but to build on the somewhat moral victory.
"We did a lot of positive things," King said. "Hey, there's going to be mistakes. We made a couple and they cost us. But those two mistakes that cost us, when I first got here they were about 10 or 12 mistakes, so I think we're making really good strides. The nice thing about this game is we get to go right back at it."