Since taking over as head coach, Denis Savard has been nothing but positive. The glass for the Blackhawks hasn't been just half full; it has been overflowing with good vibrations.
But there were signs of Savard's patience starting to thin after Friday night's loss to Boston, and the glass spilled a little more after the Hawks fell 3-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night and tumbled back under .500 for the first time since Dec. 14.
It was the first time the Hawks had suffered back-to-back regulation losses since Savard took over. But since starting 4-0-3, the Hawks are just 4-5 in their last nine games.
"Your best players have to be your best players, period," Savard said.
"They can't play on the perimeter. They have to play in tough situations. Some teams have good checkers, but they have to find a way, period."
There was much for Savard not to like Sunday, besides the fact that it brought the Blue Jackets within three points of the Hawks and the Hawks missed an opportunity to pass two teams in the Western Conference playoff chase.
There was, of course, the nightly futility of the power play, which failed five more times, including twice in the first five minutes.
The power play is now seven for its last 94, which pencils out to 7.4 percent.
"We're trying new things," defenseman Adrian Aucoin said. "The positive is we got some shots, but we have to be more effective and get better shots."
Many nights special teams are the difference between winning and losing. Columbus was 1-for-4 on the power play, with Sergei Fedorov busting down the slot and tapping in a Rick Nash pass.
Savard's patience, like that of former coach Trent Yawney, appears to be running out with Tony Salmelainen.
After having just three shifts in the first period, Salmelainen took a penalty on his first shift of the second, which led to Fedorov's goal that tied the game 1-1. It was Salmelainen's last shift of the night.
"It wasn't a message to him," Savard said. "I didn't think he was very good the first two shifts anyway."
Perhaps most worrisome is the five-game goal drought for Martin Havlat. After having four shots on goal in his last two games, Havlat had just one Sunday, and that came 2 minutes 10 seconds into the game.
"He's probably getting checked, but you have to work your way through," Savard said. "No different than the best players on other teams, you have to find a way."
This could turn out to be a pivotal week for the Hawks' playoff chances. They have games at St. Louis on Tuesday and Thursday against a Blues team that just won back-to-back games against Colorado, followed by Central Division-leading Nashville at the United Center on Friday.
"We have to start looking to [St. Louis] right now," Aucoin said.
The Hawks grabbed the lead when Martin Lapointe tipped in a Jim Vandermeer shot at 7:36 of the first. After Fedorov tied it early in the second, Manny Malhotra took advantage of some good work along the boards by Jason Chimera to beat Nikolai Khabibulin 10 minutes later. Duvie Westcott added an empty-netter.
Savard had words with Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock after Duncan Keith came out on the short end of a bout against Alexander Svitov late in the third period. Svitov checks in at 6 feet 3 inches and 228 pounds, while Keith goes 6 feet, 187 soaking wet. Savard said he had "respect" for Hitchcock and the comments back and forth were due to the "emotion" of the game. Nash could have had a hat trick. He failed on a penalty shot late in the second period, shot wide on a short-handed breakaway and had a goal wiped out when video replay ruled he had directed Ron Hainsey's shot in with his hand. Peter Bondra was scratched, though the MRI he had Saturday showed no serious injury to his shoulder. Savard said Bondra was sore from the crunching hit he took in the first period Friday from Boston's Brad Stuart. Defenseman Jassen Cullimore was scratched.
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