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Cellar dwellers meet as Jackets host Blackhawks

Dec 23, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA;  Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) and Chicago Blackhawks left wing Boris Katchouk (14) fight during the third period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Misery loves company, and that will be the case when the Chicago Blackhawks hit the ice Saturday afternoon in a road clash with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

One of the NHL’s bottom two teams will ring out 2022 with a victory, a result that has been few and far between for both sides.

The Blue Jackets, who sit last in the Eastern Conference and lead only the Blackhawks in the overall standings, are coming off Thursday’s 2-1 road loss to the New York Islanders. They are on a seven-game losing skid — all of them in regulation time — and in a 2-10-0 slump.

It’s their longest regulation-time losing streak since starting the 2015-16 season at 0-8-0.

“It’s frustrating for sure,” Columbus defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys who are getting their first taste of the league and learning the ups and downs. When it’s down, it’s really down, and when you win you have to find a way to keep it even-keeled and make sure you’re not getting too high.”

Forward Patrik Laine missed the Islanders game due to COVID-19 protocol, and there was no word on Friday whether he will return for this clash.

The Blue Jackets could use him, having been outscored 26-10 during their losing streak.

“We’ve got to score some goals,” coach Brad Larsen said. “It’s tough. Zero goals won’t get it done. Scoring late won’t get it done. You’ve got to try and get the lead and get rolling a bit.”

The Blackhawks know the feeling of futility. Chicago, which was handed a 3-1 loss by the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, has lost 10 of 11 games — all in regulation time — and has a 2-17-1 record in its last 20 outings.

The Blackhawks have scored 15 goals in their last 11 games, five of which came in a win against Columbus just before the holiday break.

“We’re not scoring five-on-five a lot. It’s on us,” defenseman Seth Jones said. “We’re only putting one or two in a game. Mistakes are more magnified when we don’t put the puck in the net.”

While the league-wide focus on the Blackhawks going forward will be on the future of veteran stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — both are pending unrestricted free agents and potentially will be traded to ignite the franchise’s rebuild — the team itself is zeroed in on winning games. Or at least, playing a winning style of hockey.

To their credit, the Blackhawks took a step forward against the Blues by tightening up defensively. Coach Luke Richardson is a believer that better offensive opportunities will be generated by stronger defensive play.

“Keeping (the Blues) to like four or five shots in the in the third period and still generating a lot in the other end, it’s a good sign,” Richardson said. “But we just got to keep our heads up and not get frustrated, otherwise it’ll get harder. We’ve got to push through and one of these days we’ll get a good bounce and it leads to a win.”

–Field Level Media

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