Before the Penguins faced off against the Blackhawks, Mike Sullivan said his primary goal when assessing the team at this early stage in the season is just making sure players are getting better on a day-to-day basis.
That should be pretty easy moving forward. At least on Thursday night, the Penguins didn't look like they could get any worse.
They gave up five unanswered goals to the in the first period, leading to a 10-1 loss to Chicago that was every bit as ugly as the score line indicates.
This game was always going to be a bit tricky for the Penguins, playing the second leg of a back-to-back against a talented Blackhawks team coming out energized for its season opener.
But it only took 10 minutes into the first period for the game to go from "tricky" to "uncompetitive."
All of the seemingly minor problems that plagued the Penguins in their season-opening 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis Wednesday seemed to get worse against Chicago.
Defensemen struggled to keep track of their men, both on the rush and in the defensive zone. Forwards turned the puck over, leading to odd-man rushes the other way.
And goaltender Antti Niemi, making his Penguins debut in the city where he won a Stanley Cup in 2010, looked shaky at best, giving up four goals in the first 9:16 before getting pulled in favor of Matt Murray. The Penguins' goaltending depth was undoubtedly one of their strengths over the past two Stanley Cup runs, but that seems to be in question now if Niemi can't provide reliable backup minutes for Murray.
Even once Murray replaced Niemi midway through the first, though, the Chicago onslaught didn't stop. Thirteen different Blackhawks recorded points, with six different players scoring goals.
Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman had five points apiece, including the opening goal which featured a beautiful behind-the-back pass from Kane to Hartman.
That goal was a sign of things to come, too. Kane displayed tremendous skill on the assist, but the Penguins didn't do themselves any favors with their inability to clear the puck or keep Hartman away from the net.
Kane's goal (the Blackhawks' sixth) was the prettiest of the night, a short-angle backhander on a rush that beat Murray high.
Brandon Saad, playing his first game back with the Blackhawks after two years in Columbus, scored a hat trick in his return to the United Center, with his third goal putting a cap on the scoring for the night.
The loss marked the first time the Penguins have given up 10 goals since Jan. 13, 1996, in a 10-8 loss to San Jose. It was their worst margin of defeat since a 9-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 8, 2003.
The Penguins will have one day to think about this loss – probably one more day than they would like – before returning to action Saturday against Nashville in a Stanley Cup final rematch, which should provide some memories of rosier times.
The schedule doesn't get much kinder after that, though, with three more sets of back-to-back games in October seven of the next 11 on the road.
The Penguins have 80 more games to prove that this was just an aberration, a one-off dismal performance in a tough situation that snowballed out of control. Eighty more games and nowhere to go but up.