Blackhawks struggling to find success at even strength after 0-1-1 start

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Blackhawks struggling to find success at even strength originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

NEWARK, N.J. — After giving up three goals in the first 10 minutes of Wednesday's season-opening 4-2 loss in Colorado, the Blackhawks talked specifically about having a good start going into New Jersey. They spent too much time chasing the game against the Avalanche and didn't want to make the same mistake on Friday.

Well, 17 seconds in, Dougie Hamilton, who signed a seven-year, $63 million contract over the offseason, welcomed himself to Devils Nation by finding the back of the net on his very first shift. And Prudential Center absolutely erupted.

"That was tough," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "It's not the way we wanted to start."

The Blackhawks recovered by allowing only five shots the rest of the first period but giving up a goal that quickly into a game stings because it sets the tone.

"Another start where we gave up some easy scoring chance and a goal," Jonathan Toews said. "Just unearned offense and then you're playing from behind. Give them credit, their forwards skate well and they're on top of you and they're quick on the transition, they make you go all the way back down low in your zone. They skate well, they didn't make it easy on us. But we've just got to make sure we're not giving up too much offense too easy."

The Blackhawks clawed back and tied things up on two separate occasions, most notably scoring twice in a span of 3:27 towards the latter stages of the third period thanks to a Kirby Dach goal on the power play and Dominik Kubalik tally with the extra attacker. But it's been six-plus periods of hockey for the Blackhawks this season and they have yet to hold a lead.

"You want to win," Toews said following a 4-3 overtime loss. "Nice to come from behind and force overtime, give yourself some hope, but when we lose those, even in overtime, they don't feel good, so you always have an easier time looking at the things that went wrong and things you can improve on when you don't get two points."

One of the areas of concern in the early going is their play at even strength, where the Blackhawks have been outscored 8-2. They've also given up 67 scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is an average of 33.5 per game. For reference, the Blackhawks allowed 29.9 scoring chances per 60 minutes last season, which ranked second-worst.

Special teams has been the only real bright spot so far. The Blackhawks have converted on three of eight power-play opportunities for a success rate of 37.5 and have killed off all six penalties, the latter of which had been a major issue in the preseason.

The Blackhawks just need the rest of it to start clicking, and it might take a little more time as they hoped as the new make-up of this group tries to get on the same page playing against legitimate opponents on a nightly basis.

"There's definitely some of that," Toews said. "Just linemates, D partners, guys being comfortable in the room to speak their mind. I think those things will fall into place, guys will get more comfortable. We'll get better as a team in all areas of the game, so I'm not worried about that."

Next up is a Pittsburgh Penguins team that's picked up three out of a possible four points in their first two games without superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, both of whom are out with injuries. It's the three straight game the Blackhawks are facing a team that's playing in their home opener, which means they know exactly what to expect.

"Obviously in front of the home crowd, they’re going to be jumping, they’re going to be flying, they’re going to be feeling good about themselves in a home opener," Seth Jones said. "But we have to find a way to weather the storm. So we have another chance tomorrow. Another chance to get through that first 10 minutes because you know they’re going to be flying for the fans. Play just a solid game, get pucks in, get through the neutral zone clean and go from there."

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