As good as the first half of the Chicago Blackhawks’ circus road trip was, the second half could send them home very unhappy.
The Blackhawks get their third and final chance to end a decade-long drought of failing to post a winning record on this annual trek as they meet the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
When the circus comes to Chicago each November, the Blackhawks (10-5-6) head out of town for an extended period and the trip usually doesn’t go very well. They have not had a winning record on this road swing since 1997, when they went 3-1 with two ties.
That seemed likely to change this season, with Chicago winning at Phoenix, Dallas and Toronto to open the six-game trip. The Blackhawks scored 14 goals in those wins, but the offense has faded in the last two games and they’ve lost both.
The only Chicago player to score during that span is Jonathan Toews. His two goals weren’t enough Wednesday in a 3-2 overtime defeat at San Jose, and on Friday the Blackhawks were shut out for the first time all season with a 1-0 loss to Anaheim and backup goalie Jonas Hiller.
“We have to find ways to score goals right now,” Toews said. “The last couple of games we have struggled. I don’t know what it is right now, but we have to find ways to put the puck in the net.”
The Blackhawks are on the verge of matching their longest losing streak of the season. Seven of their last eight games have been decided by one goal and they’ve lost five of them.
“We have a young team and to get to the playoffs we have to learn how to win those games,” Toews said.
Maybe not having Nikolai Khabibulin in net has had a negative effect as well. He suffered a lower-body injury in the second period of Wednesday’s loss and could not play Friday. It’s unclear when Khabibulin, 7-0-4 in his last 11 starts, will return, though Cristobal Huet played well Friday with 20 saves.
LaBarbera started the Kings’ most recent game and had one of his best performances of the season, making 22 saves in a 2-1 win at Edmonton on Wednesday. One night earlier at Calgary, Ersberg was pulled midway through the second period after allowing four goals in a 6-2 defeat.
“We’re both capable, that’s the thing,” LaBarbera said. “I think they have confidence in both of us.”
Wednesday’s win might have provided a confidence boost for a Kings team which had lost four of five.
Anze Kopitar and Patrick O’Sullivan have both come alive, each scoring three goals in the last four games. Before that stretch, O’Sullivan had gone 11 straight games without scoring, and Kopitar only had two goals through his first 17 games.
However, the Los Angeles power play continues to struggle, with two goals in its last 26 chances. The Blackhawks have given up at least one power-play goal in seven straight games.
Chicago is 6-2-2 in its last 10 meetings with the Kings, including a 3-1-1 mark in Los Angeles despite giving up 24 goals in those five games.