Mitchell struggles badly against Avs
DENVER — Defenseman Ian Mitchell might be running out of time to prove himself to the Blackhawks.
Mitchell was reinserted into the Hawks’ lineup for a 5-0 loss Monday to the Avalanche because coach Luke Richardson wants to ease rookie Wyatt Kaiser — who played over Mitchell on Saturday — into the NHL slowly.
But with Kaiser settling in and fellow defenseman Andreas Englund set to return soon from injury, Mitchell’s opportunities might be scarce during the final weeks of the season. And in even worse news, he struggled mightily during his critical opportunity Monday.
Kurtis MacDermid banked in the Avalanche’s first goal off Mitchell’s shin, Denis Malgin and Valeri Nichushkin exploited Mitchell on a give-and-go goal to double the lead in the second period and Malgin sliced in front of a flat-footed Mitchell to knock in the Avalanche’s fifth goal late.
Mitchell entered the game with an ugly 35.9% scoring-chance ratio at five-on-five in 29 games this season and finished the day no better off, with the Avalanche carrying play during most of his shifts.
The Hawks have a decision to make regarding Mitchell, 24, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. He isn’t making a convincing case at the moment for another contract, although he is still relatively young.
Former Hawks defenseman Jack Johnson already feels perfectly comfortable with the Avalanche — and rightfully so.
Monday was only his 12th game this season with the Avalanche after 58 with the Hawks, but he did win the Stanley Cup with them last season.
The trade Feb. 26 that sent Johnson, 36, from the Hawks back to his old Rocky Mountain home couldn’t have worked out any better. Johnson called it the ‘‘easiest transition you could possibly have.’’
‘‘I loved every minute [with the Hawks],’’ he said. ‘‘I really enjoyed my time. It wasn’t like I was looking to get out . . . . But then on the flip side, I’ve got lifelong memories here, too. As soon as I said bye to everyone in Chicago and got on the plane and got here, I was excited to try to win [the Cup] again.’’
Johnson said he never requested a trade, even though it would’ve been understandable had he done so. Instead, he heaped praise on Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson for making it possible for him to enjoy the Avalanche’s upcoming playoff run.
‘‘Davidson was incredibly open,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘We had a great relationship. He was able to talk to me about it. And I felt like it was also in the best interests for Chicago to get something [for me], too. I didn’t want to hold them back because I wanted to do right by them, as well.
‘‘[Davidson] asked me, so we had an open conversation. He didn’t have to do that. He treated me better than I ever expect to be treated.’’
Englund, whom the Hawks received in exchange for Johnson, is expected to rejoin the team Thursday in Washington. He hasn’t played since March 6 because of a hamstring injury.
Goalie Petr Mrazek also is expected to rejoin the team in Washington. Richardson said Mrazek’s decision to remove himself from the Hawks-Bruins game last Tuesday, when his groin began acting up again, made it possible for him to return this quickly.
Forward Reese Johnson, conversely, had been expected to return from his concussion and illness on this trip, but that seems increasingly less likely. Forward Anders Bjork isn’t ready to return from his lower-body injury, either.