Penalties, Atlanta unravel Hawks

After a while it should sink in. If a team is having a hard time scoring goals, it had better do all it can not to make things harder on itself.

For the first five games this season, the 1-4 Blackhawks have dug themselves one hole after another.

Saturday night's 7-2 thumping by a suddenly potent Atlanta team put all of the Hawks' failings on display in one tidy package.

There was their inability to keep the puck out of their own end of the ice. And there was their inability to win one-on-one battles that resulted in penalties.

The Thrashers scored three times in the first 10 minutes and then poured it on as the Hawks self-destructed.

Atlanta scored on four power plays in 15 tries.

"I think we took penalties because we didn't know what to do," beleaguered goaltender Jocelyn Thibault said. "We were just running around."

Thibault was pulled at 13 minutes 30 seconds of the second period after Jeff Cowan scored to make it 5-1 Atlanta. The goal came after the Thrashers had the Hawks pinned deep in their end for nearly a minute. It proved to be a recurring theme..

Ilya Kovalchuk had a hat trick, with all three goals coming on the power play. Atlanta outshot the Hawks 44-26.

"We were just trying to survive out there," Thibault said. "We can't play that way and expect to win games … [with] Kovalchuk teeing it up from the top of the circle."

Hawks rookie Tuomo Ruutu laid a vicious but legal hit on a Thrasher late in the second period, and the rest of the game turned into a brawl-fest.

"If some of the guys would have shown the emotion they did late in the game in the first period, we wouldn't have been in that situation," Hawks coach Brian Sutter said.

Sutter alternated between saying the Hawks can't take that many penalties "plain and simple" to suggesting some calls by Don Koharski and Ian Walsh were suspect.

"Some of the calls could have gone either way," Sutter said. "It took us out of the game early. It put us back on our heels."

The Hawks return home to play Nashville on Sunday before heading west for four games.

"Whenever you lose 7-2, it's tough to find some positives," winger Steve Sullivan said.

"We definitely have to get better. This is not a performance we want to remember."