By and large, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen from his team so far this season: A little rocky at the beginning, so-so of late, but a lot of really good in between.
“Decent,” Quenneville said. “A slow start, but we liked our second half (of the first half). The beginning part anyway. I think our team has gotten better here as we’ve gone along.”
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said he likes where the Blackhawks are at, but also added that he's happy his team hasn’t come close to reaching its peak yet.
“A lot of good things, I think we like where we’re at considering the fact that we have a long ways to go and a lot of room to keep on improving,” Toews said. “We knew it was going to be a tough fight within our division, and that’s not going to change.”
Chicago begins the day two points behind Nashville for the top spot in the Central Division. The Predators also have a game in hand. The Hawks have a three-point lead over St. Louis for second in the division and a comfortable seven-point edge over wild-card leaders Winnipeg and Los Angeles.
“As a team, we need to just keep taking it one step at a time and we’ll be where we want to be,” Toews said.
In order to get things going in the second half, which begins Friday when the Hawks take on the Edmonton Oilers in the second of back-to-back games, Chicago will need to figure out what is causing their slow starts.
The Blackhawks have fallen behind in the first period in six consecutive games. They’ve been outscored in the opening period 12-4 and their record during that span is a pedestrian 3-3-0.
Tuesday against Colorado, the Hawks were down a pair of goals before two minutes had even elapsed.
“The starts over the past 10 games have not been what we’re looking for,” Quenneville said. “Playing from behind doesn’t usually lead to productive hockey. We’ve really buried ourselves in these games here, and the last game is exactly what we’re talking about.”
Quenneville noted that a fast start will be one of his main talking points Thursday night when they take on a struggling Wild team that has lost eight of its past 10 games. Minnesota is also severely short-handed, without starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper and top-four defenseman Marco Scandella, who are each out with injuries.
Leading scorer Zach Parise is also unlikely to play as he and his family mourns the death of his father, longtime NHLer J.P. Parise, who died Wednesday night after a battle with lung cancer.
“If we play the right way, we really put ourselves in a good position,” Quenneville said. “I think we know how to do that. I think we just need to reinforce that and build off in the second part of the year.”