I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the Blackhawks,and all of it will make you suicidal.
A goalie controversy. I’ve heard that, and of course, it’s code for “We need a miracle-worker again.’’ But really, there’s no controversy, not right now, anyway. Corey Crawford can’t win games, so he sits while Ray Emery gets a shot, and maybe gets a couple weeks of shots the way he did in December.
Lot of talk about the bad defensive play outside the crease, too. This is not just Duncan Keith stinking or Nick Leddy looking as clueless as a garden-variety Bears safety. This is a team-wide stench borne of stupid turnovers, missed checks, bad positioning and sometimes an embarrassing inability to move the puck 20 feet into the neutral zone like everybody was taught in Squirt.
I mean, at some point, I expect Eddie O to say, “All you young hockey players out there, I want you to show the Blackhawks how to do it.’’
More recently, there has been a lot of talk about the penalty killing, which has been more penalty than killing. The Hawks should’ve told Steve Montador to just stay in the penalty box in Calgary while they cleared customs and continued the rest of the season.
All of that talk is valid. If this were April, one of those topics alone would cause you to eliminate the Hawks from serious Stanley Cup consideration. Nobody wins a Cup --- heck, a playoff round --- when you stink up half the pond.
I can’t argue when any of those concerns, problems and pottymouth-inducing disasters.
But I believe there’s something worse that causes a lot of those omigod moments: The Hawks don’t have the puck enough.
Some shifts, it’s only a rumor, as if Alpo Suhonen is still behind the bench. Just to clarify: For a team built on a puck-possession game, this is not a good thing.
But wait, there’s something else: When they do gain control of the puck, they handle it erratically at best (talking to you, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg), and unwatchably bad at worst (talking to you, everybody else).
When going through this slump, the Hawks are compounding their problems by diluting what should be their strengths. By focusing on defensive-zone play --- positioning in the slot, working the boards, clearing the puck --- the Hawks are emphasizing many things that don’t involve controlling the puck, moving it tape-to-tape and using speed.
When the Hawks are good, when they’re winning, they’re playing a form of run-and-gun. They’re playing fast-break hockey. Turn the puck up ice quickly, skate to open spots, stick-to-stick passes, bang, Chelsea Dagger.
Here’s what it comes down to for me: General Manager Stan Bowman must raise the talent level on this team and coach Joel Quenneville must get back to emphasizing the speed and skill of the talent that is here already.
If Bowman wanted to see how big the holes in his team could get, I’d say he accomplished that. Job well-done, pal. It’s so obvious and he has waited so long that now even the Canadiens and Hurricanes can hold the Hawks hostage.
For all the droning about needing a top-four defenseman, there is still a screaming mess at second-line center. Brendan Morrison isn’t the answer, not yet, anyway. Dave Bolland is out of position when he’s off the third line. Fact is, the Hawks best No. 2 center remains Sharp because he isn’t dominated in line-matching on the road the way Kane is.
The Hawks won a Cup with Sharp at center, and while he’s probably better on the wing, he’s also exceptionally good and fast with all that room in the middle of the ice. If Bowman can’t land a legit No. 2 center, then a top-six winger with speed and puck-moving skills works, too.
Quenneville, meanwhile, believes that offense starts with good defense, which is true only if you can transition to offense quickly. The Hawks can’t, not right now, anyway, and here’s why:
Their emphasis on not stinking in their defensive zone seems to have made them think instead of react. It’s understandable, what with their recent shell-shocked ways. They have been beaten by good teams and they have gotten waxed by teams below them.
They have been playing “What now?’’ hockey. Well, forget that. Try “Watch this’’ hockey.
In parts of all three of their losses in evil western Canada, the Hawks showed some quality puck movement, from home-run passes to some sweet stuff in tight. They looked like the tape-to-tape bunch that opponents feared. They looked like they were finding that instinctive puck-possession game again.
And then they started thinking about things, and then they were dead.
So maybe it’s good that the Hawks drag their five-game losing streak into Colorado on Tuesday night. The Avalanche want to play fast, want to use their speed wide, want to move the puck and buzz the net. Indeed, the Avalanche want to be the Hawks when they grow up.
Maybe they can show the Hawks what they’re missing.
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