9:29 AM CDT, April 10, 2012
One of the big problems with the “loser’’ point that the NHL awards to a team that gets beaten in overtime or a shootout is that you can get fooled by some stats.
For starters, this 100-point season isn’t like other Blackhawks 100-point seasons accomplished before shootouts. The league changed the math to make sure everybody gets a trophy, like it’s peewee hockey.
The current 100-point season is the same kind of deceiving barometer as a running back’s 1,000-yard season in 16 games instead of 14.
And another thing: The “loser’’ point also gives false impressions of a team’s recent run.
You can say the Hawks are 3-1-3 in their last seven games over the last two weeks of the regular season, and that would be true. And misleading.
The Hawks couldn’t beat Detroit in regulation when they led 2-0 with less than five minutes to go. They also couldn’t beat the lowly Minnesota Wild either time, here or there --- the Wild, do you hear me? --- and they blew a big lead against the Predators before getting the decisive goal.
Confidence is where you find it, I guess, but that?
They don’t skate 4-on-4 in overtime in the playoffs. They don’t go to shootouts after five minutes. They play the same game after 60 minutes that they played before it.
Point is, I’m trying to compare actual wins in the regular season to the way that games will have to be won in the playoffs, and I find the Hawks’ escape in Nashville was their only win in regulation or overtime in the last seven. They don’t make 3-1-3 records like they used to, I guess.
What this comes down to as the Hawks prepare for their first-round series against Phoenix that opens Thursday in the desert is more about what you see on the ice than in the standings.
The Hawks finished with more points than the Coyotes. The Coyotes finished with five straight wins, all in regulation, starting that streak with three consecutive shutouts. Which figures to matter more at the moment? See what I’m talking about?
So, here’s the deal: The Hawks will lose this series in a hurry if they abandon discipline the way they have at some of the worst times. The Coyotes frustrate opponents and capitalize on gambles.
Recent history shows the Coyotes can hold on to one-goal leads for long stretches and then build on them. The Hawks, meanwhile, don’t. Or can’t.
Either way, the Hawks have failed in the third period the last two weeks of the regular season, getting outscored 10-6 in the final 20 minutes in their last seven games, twice blowing two-goal leads. Just to clarify: not a good thing.
The Coyotes, just for comparison, haven’t allowed a goal in the third period since March 25, six games ago. Phoenix has scored only three third-period goals in that time, but that’s just showing off when you’re giving up nothing.
There are a lot of reasons I should like the Blackhawks over the Coyotes in this series --- the expected return of Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland to fill huge roles at center, the savvy trade for defenseman Johnny Oduya that restored order to an active blue line, a more talented roster than Phoenix --- but I don’t, and that recent inability to protect leads late is a big reason why.
Unbelievable stat of the playoffs: The Hawks power play that has been so inexplicably bad given their offensive talent, converting at just 15.2 percent, finished the season better than the Coyotes’ power play. No lie. True fact. The Coyotes’ 13.6 percentage ranked second-to-last.
Then again, when you shut out three straight opponents, win five in a row and allow only two goals in your last 17 periods, you don’t need a lot of power-play goals.
But when the Hawks can’t protect a two-goal lead late against a Detroit or a one-goal lead late against Minnesota at home to end the season, their power play can become theirr playoff casket, especially when facing the hottest goalie in the league.
Phoenix netminder Mike Smith fashioned those three straight shutouts down the stretch while Corey Crawford couldn’t manage even one all season, and I’m thinking, nothing good ever comes when the Hawks deal with ANY Mike Smith.
Best thing for the Hawks power play is that it opens on the road where it can stink and try to find itself without getting booed the way it might at home.
Heads up, Brent Seabrook: Former Vancouver goof Raffi Torres is a Coyote. He can play dirty in any uniform, and judging by his six teams in 10 seasons, he has. So, heads up to you, too, Jonathan Toews.
Let me get this straight: Toews passed the NHL’s concussion tests but not his own concussion test? What does that say about the NHL’s concussion protocol? What does that say about the Hawks willingness to risk their best player’s future?
A lot of idiots around here rip Dale Tallon for building a Stanley Cup champion that had to be sold off for parts because of the salary cap. The idiots race right past the “building a Stanley Cup champion’’ part and focus on the “sold off’’ stuff, like the Hawks win so many Stanley Cups that it requires discriminating taste. Look, if you want to rip Tallon, rip him for trading Radim Vrbata to Phoenix for the immortal Kevyn Adams before the 2007-08 season. In four seasons with the Coyotes before and after a dalliance with Tampa Bay and some European teams, Vrbata has scored 105 goals, including 35 this season. By comparison, the Hawks agreed to pay, what, more than $25 million for Patrick Kane, who has never scored more than 30 goals in a season. What’s wrong with that picture?
Good news is, Vrbata not only tends to disappear in the playoffs, but also become a defensive liability.
Interesting scenario: The Hawks not only have a chance to eliminate the Coyotes from the playoffs, but also perhaps eliminate them from Arizona altogether. True or not, there some talk that a first-round elimination makes the troubled franchise ripe for a prospective buyer to move the team to Quebec City or Seattle, a destination to which Wolves owner Don Levin has been linked.
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