9:28 AM CDT, March 26, 2013
Remember when the Chicago Blackhawks outskated everybody?
Yeah, they set a record, such as the silly NHL records are, for not losing in regulation for half of this half-season. The Hawks came out of the lockout quicker and faster on their skates and with the puck. They were better early and late in games. Their style and record sparked memories of the glorious 2010 Stanley Cup team that was too quick to get punished physically and too talented to lose control of the puck.
Now, not so much.
Now the Hawks are getting caught. They’re getting caught, they’re getting hit, and tellingly in the last two games against Western Conference tough guys Anaheim and Los Angeles, the Hawks are staying hit.
Blown third-period leads to follow.
The Ducks are Kings are big and play that way. The Hawks aren’t and don’t. The Hawks can skate better than both teams, but in the last week they didn’t. In the last week, the comparisons to the 2010 dream have been replaced by the 2012 nightmare when Phoenix hit the Hawks, forced the game along the boards and left the Hawks to die there.
That’s every team’s scouting report on the Hawks. Hit them, wear them down and blow up their puck-possession game. The physical play affects many areas, not just players looking spooked and sloppy through the neutral zone, where the Hawks have made some of their costliest mistakes. Calgary undoubtedly will emphasize that style Tuesday night in the United Center, and it doesn’t matter that Calgary is a bad team because the Hawks have lost to bad teams as easily as they have lost to good ones this month.
Calgary also will emphasize faceoffs, an area the Hawks seem to have lost big and/or at the worst times lately, such as the one that led to the Kings’ winner with 93 seconds to go Monday night.
That’s the second straight collapse in the third period at home. Someone help me out here: Why are the Hawks fighting so hard for home-ice advantage in the playoffs?
The Hawks are missing Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, two of their top four forwards. Some believe that takes the edge off some of the potential panic at the moment, but wise up, there’s no guarantee about anyone’s health in the postseason, especially Hossa and his concussion history.
I mean, where’s the talented depth the Hawks rode for the first 24 games and counted on for 16 postseason victories?
I’ll hang up and listen for Stan Bowman’s answer.
It’s all about the playoffs now, and the playoffs are about talent and toughness in protecting third-period leads -- moving the puck faster than an opponent can skate, taking hits to make sure the puck gets out of your zone and into theirs, and winning faceoffs to own the puck and play smartly with it.
The Hawks have messed up some or all of those Stanley Cup commandments in blowing third-period leads against Vancouver, Los Angeles and twice against Anaheim this season, all possible opponents somewhere along the Stanley Cup march.
The important question going forward is this: Are the Hawks experiencing the kind of struggles in losing four of their last seven that even good teams experience during a regular season or have the demands of this season slowed them down and made them vulnerable?
The Hawks remain an imperfect team, no matter how perfect they were cast thanks to the NHL’s cockamamie “loser point’’ system. They still need a No. 2 center. Dave Bolland isn’t it, and no amount of Patrick Kane’s wonderful season can hide that. Bolland isn't scoring this season and has been a bust in the faceoff circle.
I don’t know what Bowman will do at the trade deadline next week, if anything. He won’t suddenly add a bunch of size to his roster. If he does anything, he will find a skater or two who fit the Hawks’ puck-possession game and are quick enough to elude the pounding that every opponent will attempt to deliver.
If Bowman has been paying attention, the Hawks’ need this year remains the same as last year. When there’s no viable No. 2 center, listing off top-six forwards is a quick exercise and potentially another quick postseason exit, and just to clarify, anything short of a parade in June is a quick postseason exit.
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