Hawks star Patrick Kane (being checked by the Devils’ Eric Gelinas) says this time of the season is always a grind. | Bill Kostroun/AP
The facts: 7 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.
Updated: February 15, 2014 6:19AM
Four months removed from the start of training camp, the Blackhawks are barely halfway through the regular season. They have another two-week road trip, the Olympics and the stretch run to come — three full months to go until the games really start to count.
Four months removed from training camp last season, the Hawks were already in the second round of the playoffs, dropping the puck on a wildly intense, unforgettable series against the rival Detroit Red Wings.
Welcome to the dog days of winter. With the excitement of the Olympic roster selections behind them and the Olympics themselves still a few weeks away, the Hawks have hit the midseason doldrums, and it has been showing in their play. Their dominant victory Sunday against the lowly Edmonton Oilers was the first time they scored a first-period goal in 2014, a span of six games. Uninspired starts, uncharacteristic turnovers and unmotivated efforts have led to a mild post-New Year’s hangover for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
After all, it has been a while since the Hawks played an 82-game season. And they’re feeling it.
‘‘I think you always expect Games 40 to 60 to be somewhat of a grind,’’ said winger Patrick Kane, who is mired in a seven-game goal-scoring drought, one of several Hawks scuffling since the Christmas break. ‘‘That’s the way it’s always been. I think you come in excited for the season, and then these 20 games seem to be a grind. After that, you start getting excited for the playoffs and start playing a little better, too. Just try to grind through this little while here.’’
The Hawks’ 5-3 victory against the Oilers was particularly well-timed. It served not only to wake up the offense — the Hawks had scored two or fewer goals in five of their previous six games — but to wake up the team itself heading into three difficult home games in the next six days: Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche, Friday against the scorching-hot and league-leading Anaheim Ducks and Sunday against the Boston Bruins in a nationally televised Stanley Cup Final rematch.
With the Ducks reeling off 17 victories in their last 18 games and the St. Louis Blues essentially catching up in the Central Division, this is no time to be going through the motions.
‘‘You’ve got to find meaning and purpose for every game,’’ said coach Joel Quenneville, who has held few practices in a concerted effort to keep his players from skating themselves into the ground. ‘‘I know that it’s human nature. Some nights it’s tough to get excited about every game. But you’ve got to find a way when you might not have your ‘A’ game behind you and might not have your ‘A’ pace behind you that you play a smart game with a purpose.’’
Of course, it’s all minor quibbles at this point. Even during their post-New Year’s ‘‘slump,’’ the Hawks went 1-1-3 and picked up at least one point in four out of five games. But in the sprint season last year, the Hawks raised the bar awfully high in terms of energy and effort. Their only real lull came during the playoff series against the Red Wings, and they rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven games.
The victory against the Oilers was encouraging, but it came against the 29th-place team in the league. The Hawks will need all their energy, effort and focus to come through the next three games unscathed, doldrums or not.
‘‘We know every game’s not going to be perfect, and we’re not going to have our legs every period,’’ center Marcus Kruger said. ‘‘But we still have another level in effort that we always can bring. We just have to find it.’’