Just as the Blackhawks' ship began sinking deeper, a life preserver was tossed their way. The only question is how long before they can grab it and what kind of shape they'll be in when they do.
Late in the third period of Monday's 1-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche--the Hawks' fourth consecutive defeat on this road trip--the Hawks announced that suspended forward Theo Fleury has been cleared by his doctors to resume practicing with the team.
The Hawks were informed Monday morning of the news and had Fleury on an afternoon flight to Phoenix, where he will take the ice Tuesday with his teammates for the first time since being suspended Oct. 8 for violating the aftercare portion of the NHL's substance abuse program.
Fleury has not yet been reinstated by the NHL to resume playing in games, and Hawks general manager Mike Smith said Monday night that it's virtually certain that Fleury won't make his season debut Thanksgiving against the Phoenix Coyotes.
"He's not playing Thursday," Smith said. "I don't see that, or I doubt it. It would be completely illogical to keep him out for seven weeks and in two days you go from sitting at home to playing in a game. I find that illogical."
Smith said he has no idea when Fleury will be cleared to play in games and that the decision is not only the doctor's but Fleury's as well.
"Theo has to keep doing what he's supposed to do--stay sober," Smith said.
The addition of Fleury to the lineup would be a welcome shot in the arm for a team that has flatlined since leaving home with a six-game unbeaten streak.
Monday, the story line was the same. The Hawks had what they believed were enough chances to win but didn't convert them. In four games on this trip, the Hawks have scored five goals.
Despite their offensive problems, Monday was the first time the Hawks were blanked this season. David Aebischer made 26 saves as the Hawks outshot Colorado 26-24.
The lone goal came about five minutes after the Hawks made their announcement on Fleury, at 11:23 of the third period.
Colorado won a faceoff in the Hawks' zone and defenseman Rob Blake put a shot from the point on goalie Jocelyn Thibault, who made the save but allowed a rebound in the slot. Dan Hinote fought off a check from Andrei Nikolishin and banged the rebound past Thibault.
"We work so hard," Thibault said. "We work hard enough to win games. I didn't see [Blake's] shot at all. I just made myself big and the rebound went right on the guy's stick. Every game it seems like we have a breakdown like that. I think we deserve better."