At a time when the best skating teams seem to be at an advantage in the new skater-friendly NHL, the Blackhawks faced two of the better ones in the league Saturday and Sunday.
The results weren't promising.
Edmonton Oilers before 12,531 at the United Center came on the heels of a 5-1 setback Saturday at New Jersey.
The Hawks cursed their luck around the net Sunday, either missing the net on chances or being foiled by goaltender Tommy Salo. But horrible passingespecially in their own endand being a step or two behind the Oilers created a hole too big for the offense to dig out of.
"If the puck isn't going in at one end, you can't give up chances at the other end," Hawks coach Brian Sutter said. "Plain and simple. Not much to talk about."
The Hawks were fortunate to be down just one goal after 20 minutes Sunday after handling the puck in their own end as if it were infected with a deadly virus.
Four minutes into the game, the Oilers pinned the fourth line of Igor Korolev, Nathan Dempsey and Shawn Thornton in their own end for almost a full minute before the Hawks finally cleared the zone.
But seconds later, Ales Pisa's pass along the boards went past both Jon Klemm and Alexander Karpovtsev to Anson Carter, who beat Jocelyn Thibault on a breakaway.
"[The defense] maybe got caught on the first goal," Sutter said.
The Hawks got a bad break when Thibault and Mike Comrie got tangled outside of the crease and Thibault couldn't get back in time to stop Ryan Smyth's wraparound at 6 minutes 30 seconds of the second period. Thibault said referee Dan Marouelli told him that because he was out of his crease, Comrie was allowed to impede Thibault from getting back.
The trouble started on a lost faceoff by Alex Zhamnov. It was another tough night for the Hawks' top line of Zhamnov, Sergei Berezin and newcomer Chris Simon. After being a combined minus-7 in New Jersey, they were a combined minus-6 Sunday.
"They have to adjust to each other," Sutter said. "I guess I have to look at that."
Said Berezin, who has yet to score an even-strength goal this season: "We have to score some goals, that's the bottom line. That's what I'm here for, to score. They're not going in and we just have to stay with it."
The Hawks climbed back into the game at 15:18 of the second when Mark Bell's centering pass hit off Kyle Calder and went past Salo to make it 2-1.
But 36 seconds lateragain with Zhamnov's line on the icethe Hawks were outworked on the boards and Shawn Horcroft finished off a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play with Todd Marchant and Dan Cleary to make it 3-1.
Carter scored an empty-netter to close the scoring.
OILERS 4, HAWKS 1