One of the underappreciated parts of this record start by the Chicago Blackhawks is the job that Joel Quenneville has done.
So underappreciated, in fact, that one list of the top coaching jobs of this shortened NHL season didn’t include the guy whose team has gone 16-0-3. Can a guy get a little respect here?
This looks like a dream job. Tap players on the shoulder and they proceed to look great, and you never lose a game in regulation. If you’re doing it right, yeah, that’s the way it looks.
But not every team is doing it. In fact, no team in the NHL is doing it. No team has ever done it from the start of a season. So, maybe it’s not that easy.
It takes talent to make it look like that – playing talent and coaching talent.
For a coach, it requires selling your system, knowing who can execute that system in specific spots, and then putting players in those spots to make it look easy.
Players, meanwhile, must buy in, which is best judged by confident and consistent execution. That seems to describe the Hawks this year, eh?
When the Hawks haven’t shown that kind of execution, they’ve obviously shown a terrific survival instinct. Whatever has been required, they’ve done.
While coaches dream of this kind of run, they also fear it to some degree. When it looks easy, players tend to think it actually is easy, a sucker’s bet. Talent without discipline is a .500 team. Last season, the Hawks often defaulted to playing Ice Capades instead of ice hockey.
Coaches worry that their players will stop listening. Coaches fear that their players will think they just have to show up. That’s when they start taking shortcuts. That’s when things go badly.
I haven’t seen that with these Hawks. I’ve seen mistakes, but I haven’t seen Hawks players go on walkabout.
If some forwards are hanging out in the neutral zone, it’s likely to get open for a home-run pass, which has been an important part of the Hawks' breakout since Quenneville arrived.
At the other end, it’s a surprise when a forward doesn’t backcheck, and when the opponent has scored, it seems more obvious who missed a defensive assignment because these guys almost never miss defensive assignments, that game in Calgary notwithstanding.
What’s more, the player responsible for the screw-up inevitably makes up for it somehow. A big part of the big goals scored or set up by Patrick Kane this season seemingly have come after he made a bad turnover in the neutral zone or a bad decision someone else on the ice.
The Hawks are playing as if Quenneville has their full attention. They have gone 10-0-3 in one-goal games during this streak. Forwards and defensemen alike are blocking shots. That doesn’t happen unless players embrace the details and the willingness to sacrifice.
Those times when a player or two loses focus, Quenneville has dropped the hammer of ice time. He doesn’t play toy soldiers just because he wants to do something behind the bench. He’s coaching the game that’s in front of him, and nobody’s doing it better. Some respect is due here, people.
This isn’t like "Argo," or what the Raisinet-brained voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences think of "Argo’s" sudden, magical appearance on movie screens.
Nope, the Best Picture in the NHL isn’t just directing itself.