The following ran in Tuesday’s edition of “The Committed Indian”:
Disease: Mediocre Hockey Team, “MHT” (or as it’s known in the medical community, Mediocrus Hockosis)
Warning Signs: Short summer, huge roster turnover, excessive offseason binge drinking
Symptoms: Things to look out for include, but are not limited to, shoddy defensive play, an inability of goalies to win games on their own, a lackadaisical attitude, and a lack of contributions from top players.
After a thorough examination of the Blackhawks after 26 games, their record speaks for itself. Sure at 4-2, the Circus Trip was a success, but let’s not have blind faith. This is going to take some pseudo-scientific research. Figuring out how they got here and whether they have actually turned the corner is key to diagnosis and treatment in this case. Our treatise follows.
Their team defense has been very poor most nights. Each of Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson appear to be among the most infected. Many times, as Keith goes, so go the Hawks. When he’s going well in the regular season, the Hawks have a nearly impenetrable immune system and when he’s not at the top of his game, Mediocrus Hockosis can set in. Unfortunately, until a couple weeks ago, he looked more like a Dr. Frankenstein creation of Nathan Dempsey and Steve Poapst.
For Niklas Hjalmarsson, the excuses were plentiful at the beginning of the season: his partner missed the first month; he was suspended for two games; he was partnered with Nick Boynton for too long; he mistakenly received the MHT placebo vaccine. Though his play has been better as of late, his skating seems to be regressing. He was never the fleetest of foot, but please explain to us how in four months time a 23-year old can begin to skate like a 57-year old. Is he the Benjamin Button of Sweden, or just another diseased Hawk?
A lot of people like to lay the blame at the feet of the Hawk forwards for extending too far in the neutral zone, but the wingers are instructed to stretch the play. Watch how hard they bust their ass down the wall when the Hawks gain possession. They don’t that because they feel like it; they do it because they are told to.
Regardless of the cause of the key culprit, the overall poor own-zone play has negatively impacted the break-out and reduced the involvement of Hawk d-men in odd-man rushes the other way – a key attribute of a healthy Hawk team.
Since the first two weeks of the season and until the last two games of the Circus Trip, the goaltending hasn’t bailed them out. We admit to not knowing a damn thing about goalies, but we do know the best thing to cure a team of its ailments is a hot goalie. Corey Crawford, it’s all yours until it’s not. Don’t make us look stupid.
Losing is going to happen, but at least make it look good. The Hawks have already played some of their worst games in recent memory. When we talk about bad games, it almost always means a lack of effort. There’s nothing worse than watching a hockey team that doesn’t give a damn. Just take the recent Calgary game. The Hawks didn’t have the slightest interest in winning a board battle. Taking the body was a myth. Then there were the two games they dropped to Edmonton at the United Center; a 2-0 lead they coughed up to the Blue Jackets again at home; and the cherry on top, a home loss to one of the most disappointing teams in the league, New Jersey. It’s this lethargy that leaves may lesser physicians to misdiagnose MHT as hepatitis C.
Certain members of the core aren’t carrying their loads. Before the season ever started, pundits everywhere said the Hawks lack of offensive depth would be their downfall, or their lack of white blood cells if you will. How could they ever replace the goals Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien provided?
It’s been pretty easy actually. Viktor Stalberg, Jake Dowell, and Bryan Bickell are all on pace to give the Hawks the 15-20 goals the aforementioned former Hawks provided. Though Dowell will likely taper off, (we’d probably body surf through the 300 level if he pots 10) Jack Skille will more than likely pick up his slack.
Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews are all just about matching their historical production; Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are both putting up numbers you’d expect from your first defensive pairing; and Brian Campbell has been very good since returning from his sprained knee.
So that leaves Dave Bolland, Marian Hossa, and Niklas Hjalmarsson as the remaining “core” players.
While Hjalmarsson was never projected as an offensive dynamo, you’d at least like to see him outscore Jassen Cullimore. We don’t think that’s asking too much for a $3.5 million defenseman.
It’s becoming apparent that Marian Hossa will likely never be healthy for long stretches as a Blackhawk. Because of that, we’ll see flashes of dominance followed by periods of invisibility. Still, he’s cruising along at just under a point-per-game pace and enjoyed one such dominant flash early on. For what’s its worth, he was already trending downward when Nick Boynton knocked him out of practice yesterday.
Then we get to the point-per-week Dave Bolland. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, for the mere cost of $3.375 million, you too can have a 3rd line center that gets outscored by the offensive prowess of Fernando Pisani. The Dave Bolland Apologist Society will point to his plus rating (+3, stop the presses!!) and his ability to shut down offensive juggernauts and perennial Conn Smythe candidates like the Sedins and Joe Thornton in last year’s playoffs. Yup, Bolland gets the lion’s share of credit for shutting down three guys who have just a little bit more NHL playoff success than we do. Here are the cold hard facts: In 20 games, Bolland has 1 goal and 4 assists – this coming from a fourth year pro and someone Stan Bowman gave no thought to trading over the summer. Someone better get us a doctor soon.
Diagnosis: The arrow is definitely pointing up as far as Duncan Keith’s play is concerned, so that’s encouraging. Corey Crawford is playing with a lot of confidence right now and this extra rest will only help Marty Turco in the long run. The Hawks haven’t laid a turd in over a week, but they’re still capable of doing it at any time until they prove otherwise. Certain members of their “core” aren’t doing enough of the heavy lifting that their contract and team status warrants.
Has the mediocrity disease spread to their major organs?
Take one extended home stand, get plenty of rest, and call us back in a couple of weeks.