Colliton's decisions backfire in Blackhawks' ugly loss

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, bottom left, fights with Chicago Blackhawks center Drake Caggiula (91) as teammates scuffle during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 8-5.

    New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, bottom left, fights with Chicago Blackhawks center Drake Caggiula (91) as teammates scuffle during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 8-5. Associated Press

  • Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Cam Ward, far left, looks on as New Jersey Devils players celebrate a goal by New Jersey Devils right wing Kyle Palmieri (21) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Newark, N.J.

    Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Cam Ward, far left, looks on as New Jersey Devils players celebrate a goal by New Jersey Devils right wing Kyle Palmieri (21) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Newark, N.J. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/14/2019 9:47 PM

When the Blackhawks started winning on a consistent basis in the middle of December, coach Jeremy Colliton settled into a steady, predictable rhythm with his lineups.

Same lines. Same defense pairings. Ride the hot goalie.

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And the victories kept coming.

Recently, though, the Hawks hit a rough patch and Colliton made a couple of interesting decisions Monday that may have contributed to a brutal 8-5 loss at New Jersey.

1. The first-year coach elected to start seven defensemen.

2. He started Cam Ward in net.

Both moves backfired badly.

After a so-so first period in which the Devils led just 1-0, the mishmashed D corps got turned inside out during a 13-minute stretch in which the Hawks (16-23-9) allowed a whopping 5 goals to fall behind 6-1. When it was over, they'd lost for the sixth time in seven games, with three defeats coming in OT.

"I don't really know how to explain it," Duncan Keith told reporters afterward. "It just kind of seemed like we were all off. It just kind of snowballed from there.

"They had some momentum and we didn't do anything to stop it (and) turn it around."

Keith was a minus-5 and directly responsible for New Jersey's first goal when he couldn't corral a Dominik Kahun pass in the offensive zone. The puck went right to Blake Coleman, who had just exited the penalty box, and Coleman easily beat Ward on a breakaway.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If you're looking for positives, Patrick Kane scored twice and had 2 assists in a career-high 28 minutes, 50 seconds of ice time. He has multiple points in five straight games -- the longest stretch of his career.

Brent Seabrook also notched the 100th goal of his career with 59 seconds left in the second period to make it 6-3.

Other than that, it was a nightmare for everyone else -- and especially Erik Gustafsson, who came in riding an eight-game assist streak. Gustafsson got caught flat-footed on New Jersey's fifth and final goal of the second period and it earned him a benching for the entire third period. Gustafsson allowed Drew Stafford to fly right past him into the offensive zone, and it led to an easy goal for Kevin Rooney.

"Got to give us a little more," Colliton said. "(He needs to be) ready all the time. Game's always on the line when you're out there. He can impact the game in a positive way for us, and that's what we want out of him."

The Hawks actually made it a 7-5 game when Kahun scored at 8:48 of the third and Brandon Saad scored with 1:32 remaining in the game. Coleman put the game away, though, with an empty-netter with 34 seconds left.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ward stopped just 19 shots and was pulled after two periods. He has allowed 4 or more goals in 11 of 19 appearances.

Colliton used seven defensemen because he wanted to get newly acquired Slater Koekkoek into the lineup, and it also gave him "flexibility to play the guys that are going."

Still, it's not an easy adjustment for D-men to make as they are forced to change partners on nearly every shift.

"I can understand. We've got a lot of defensemen," Keith said. "They want to get everybody in some action. You've got to be able to adjust. The biggest thing is communication because you're switching partners a lot. That's an adjustment, but it's not something we shouldn't be able to handle."

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