Flames 3, Blackhawks 1

There’s been a lot of confusion the past couple years as to what constitutes a good backcheck.  Often times, fans look for the guy trying the hardest or exerting the most effort and automatically assume that’s a good backcheck.  In reality, a properly executed backcheck is a bit more complicated than that.  The first backchecker generally has two options, attack the puck-carrier or cover the open man.  The decision is his; usually it’s the guy he’s closest to that he will skate towards.  The defenseman then has to react towards the backchecker’s decision and take whomever the backchecker doesn’t. 

Tonight, the Hawks were burned (no pun intended) by a poorly executed backcheck.

Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is looking like a $3.5 million mistake with each passing game, was once again hypnotized by the puck-carrier and helped turn a 3-on-3 into a breakaway. 

Olli Jokinen (the puck-carrier) was already skating towards Nick Boynton’s side of the ice as he crossed the blue line.  A back-checking Troy Brouwer had already committed towards Jokinen.  So between the two of them, the Hawks had Jokinen and his right wing, more or less, bottled up.  Hjalmarsson was oblivious to all of this as he followed Jokinen across the blue line, essentially rolling out the red carpet for a streaking Curtis Glencross down the left wing.  Jokinen spotted him, as any respectable NHL scoring forward with two working eyes would have, and Glencross did the rest.  

And that was that.

For what seems like the 94th time this year, the Hawks had a major defensive meltdown in the final frame where at least one point looked imminent.  Instead, they get nothing.  That is the biggest difference between last year’s team and this one.  Last year, a tied game heading into the third was practically a guarantee of one point.  This year, it’s considered a minor miracle if the Hawks can get out of a tied third unscathed. 

The Hawks not drawing a point has nothing to do with lack of heart or trying or whatever else.  They’re trying.  They’re just not very smart.  And I honestly have no idea why that is.

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24 Responses to Flames 3, Blackhawks 1

  1. Cam says:

    The Hawks are setting records for finding ways to lose. Usually, it’s despite badly outplaying the opponent like in Vancouver or against Minnesota. Tonight they didn’t do anything particularly well, but still could’ve won. They just choke come the 3rd period.

  2. Cam says:

    Forget to mention that the Hawks had the 6th-best goal differential coming into tonight. But if you don’t get your losses in overtime–and the Hawks don’t–you’re going to pay.

  3. ArlingtonRob says:

    Agree completely with John and Cam. This has been a strange year for a team that still has great talent. The third period means death for this years club, and I don’t understand why. One thing seems certain, the third period is certainly between their ears now.

    Does somebody need to be fired for this? I don’t know, but it could get interesting in the front office in the next 6 months. Missing the playoffs is gonna cost Rocky alot of cake, and he will not be pleased.

  4. Phil says:

    Having the worst record in the NHL in the 3rd period comes down to 2 things – poor conditioning and/or lack of the “hate to lose” attitude.

    I’d say losing guys like Madden & Ladd subtracts somewhat from the latter, but I’d bet the Cup-winning summer celebrations and the resulting lack of off-season workouts play a far greater part in this team’s late breakdowns.

  5. Then The Herd says:

    The Hawks are now 5-10-1 when tied after 2 periods. Since this team often plays a very sluggish first period, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to win hockey games.

    Plenty of talent to make the playoffs and a bit of noise there. But not the fire this year.

    Guys like Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Brouwer, and especially Toews are going to feel the sting of humiliation this early spring, after likely missing the playoffs. They probably need to win 18-19 of their last 29 games to avoid being the new Carolina. Little this year gives anyone realistic hope of them being motivated enough to make that happen.

  6. Otter says:

    I thought the Hawks were pretty bad last night. The entire team was very blah (though the blue line gave an okay effort) and the Flames must have hit three or four posts. That came could have been much worse than it was and the Hawks were lucky to even be in it since they couldn’t do anything on the power play or five-on-five.

    Did Hossa even play the first 58 minutes of last nights game?

  7. Otter says:

    I want to also add that the Hawks now have to take all six points remaining on the road trip… and most importantly, a tie against the Stars and ‘Yotes doesn’t do them much good.

    A win in Edmonton is an obvious must even if it comes in overtime/shoot out.

    Also does anyone have any clue why the Hawks play Florida and Tampa twice?

  8. Marts says:

    I was at the game last night, some additional observations that may not have been apparent on TV (or in the comments mentioned above).

    – The entire game (both sides) had little to no flow. On a couple of occasions the refs and the ice crew reported to the time-keepers bench and were digging around… this is purely speculation but I think there was something wrong with the puck freezer. They were bouncing all night and I could see the players on the bench visibly upset with their inconsistency.

    – Hossa was very bad. Trying everything with one hand on the stick with his back to the offensive net.

    – On multiple occasions Boynton was too gassed to make it to the bench for a change allowing himself to get pinned in and allowing the Flames to get their cycle running. Twice it occured on clean break-outs followed by a soft dump/chip by the forwards. About 3 or 4 other times on deep neutral zone possession by the Hawks. The worst, 3 times he couldn’t make the change when he was positioned on the near side of the ice (closest to the bench).

    – The Flames had Toews figured out on the draws. I’ve noticed this in other games too, but teams are figuring out ways to get him thrown from the dot rather than trying to beat him cleanly. This happened several times again last night. After an icing near the end of the 1st I saw Tanguay talk quickly to Morrision (who’s better on draws and should’ve been lining up for a vital one with ~17 seconds left in the period). Instead, Tanguay lined up with Toews only to bull-him off the draw causing them both to get thrown out. Morrison stepped in and won back cleanly. Toews was visibly angry that the linesman got sucked in on the little cheat. For my money, it’s a smart play by the Flames, and all teams, to get him thrown out. He needs to rethink his strategy as its costing us possession. He’s no good to us if he’s only winning 7 of 10 total draws in a game…

    – Bolland didn’t look like he was doing much out there but his defensive positioning was really good. Almost looked like he was lugging himself around out there but he was cutting off large portions of ice quite effectively, Pisani’s positioning was decent as well. I think they both have an innate ability to be in the exact position the other team doesn’t want them to be. A subtle skill but it can crush a rush before it even picks up momentum. On the flip side the Flames played us very passively and waited to counter. I think they spent the weekend watching tape of that loss to the Flyers before the break…

    – The Hawks D, particularly Keith, tried to hold the blueline (along the boards) almost to a fault. As a result the Flames pretty much had the centre of the ice to do as they pleased. I don’t know if the D was schemed to play them that way but it failed IMO. Sure Keith has the legs to chase guys to the centre of the ice but it becomes a serial game of catch-up. I think they were trying to defend a chip-n-charge mentality but the Flames adjusted and our guys didn’t. It’s pretty easy to get out of your own end when you’re gifting the opposition 45 feet of ice.

    – A few times the Hawks picked up the 2nd trailer entering the opposition zone but I noticed that the first two forwards in weren’t sticking in front of the net (generally). They were buzzing the tower and then circling into the corners. By the time they figured that the late man had the puck and doubled back to the net the shooting lane was closed (and obviously the shooter wasn’t going to throw a 50 footer onto an unscreened net). In a word, this is “lazy” hockey.

    Overall a real let down performance. The Flames are playing a frustrating, broken, no-continuity style of game and are effectively getting teams to play into it. After a real good night in Van (I think that exact game ends 5-2 under normal circumstances) this was pathetic. I couldn’t even will myself to have more than 1 beer to enjoy it a little bit more. Popcorn sucked too…

  9. John says:

    Marts, I think your last point is what Keith was referencing in his post-game comments. Their big boys play an all too passive style in their transition game. Kopecky (and Brouwer occassionally) seems to be the only guys willing to go strong and stop at the net. Problem is Kopecky just swings his stick around like a crazy person and Brouwer doesn’t do it nearly enough.

    Hossa wants no part of the 15 feet around the net.

    Solid observations.

  10. Patrick says:

    I think Hossa is broken and really can’t be fixed until the offseason.

    Frustrating game last night. Was Kipper really that good, or did the Hwks make him look good?

  11. SouthSideHawkMan says:

    I think it is becoming crystal clear that we are reaching the point in the season where moves have to be made if the Hawks want to defend their cup. This roster isn’t good enough right now. Personally I would n’t mind seeing Sharp moved as he can fetch something good in return. Maybe bring up Beach? I have no idea but what i can say is what they have now,…isn’t working

  12. Marts says:

    @ Patrick – I think you’re right on Hossa, I’ve thought the same for a while as well.

    Regarding Kipper…? We didn’t nearly trouble him enough. From my vantage point (lower bowl seats on the Hawk blue-line) I was able to see the left side of the Hawks attack (at the far end of the ice) in a perfect line (myself – shooter – Kipper). I would guess he saw nearly 100% of the shots coming from that side of the ice. Obviously I can’t speak for the other side of the ice but I don’t imagine it was much better.

    The Flames were really collapsing to the slot in their own end which really clogged up shooting lanes as well as seam passes. Basically they played a 4 man box with 5 men. This resulted in Kipper being able to look around screens to the outside (often the screens were his own men clogging the lanes) and as soon as the puck was skated close to the goal-mouth that 5th man was jumping ontop of guys creating odd-man checking situations. We needed more guys earning their minutes in front of the net creating some havoc and opening up cross ice passes and shooting lanes. I don’t understand how guys are unwilling to stand in front of the net in todays game. So much harder for the D to move you now (unless you’re name is Chris Pronger and you’re given carte blanche to pound peoples kidneys to mush…).

  13. Then The Herd says:

    Not sure why, with people generally critical of Bowman’s moves, there would be a trust in the same Bowman to get good return for a player like Sharp.

    This team has talent enough to make some noise, and what they need is a catalyst to make them accountable again.

    As for Hoss, I think he’s just tired out after 3 seasons of June hockey and the Olympics to boot. Lots of high pressure games, too. Chronic fatigue shows up as lack of mental sharpness, susceptibility to injury and illness, and longer recovery time from injuries. Rest is the only cure. “Want to” can’t fix it.

  14. SouthSideHawkMan says:

    As a Hawks fan that wants to be behind Bowman I am very critical of him. He did a good job of a messy cap due to Tallon, but hasn’t that always been what Stan does; he’s a number guy. Listen to him when he talks; numbers. I honestly don’t know what type of talent evalutor he is. He made a few trades. Cam Barker for Kim Johnsen and Leddy? Stalberg for Steeger? 4 players to ATL for Morin, not good! Marty Turco signing, bad! Although these are hardly blockbuster or an impact move at this point they are moves that has made our defending cup champs an 11th place team in the west and that is unacceptable!

  15. Tom says:

    SSHawk – keep in mind with the salary restrictions that were in place when he took over.

    We all knew this team would struggle this year (my hope at the beginning of the year was that they made the playoffs this season) because of the overhaul of the line-up.

    The Hawks couldn’t afford to keep everyone. Buff was going to get paid by someone. So was Steeger, and Ladd. Sure, paying a ton for Hammer looks stupid now, but considering how well he played last season, and San Jose was going after him? The Hawks had to pay him. If they didn’t, and he was next in line after Keith and DD to get the Norris, we would’ve all gone to the UC for Bowman’s head.

    Morin is good. Morin will help this team out. A lot of our talent is in the minors right now. The real question is why Boyton and Scott are getting any sort of ice time over guys like Hendry. That’s not a Bowman decision. Talk to Q on that one.

  16. titan says:

    “The first backchecker generally has two options, attack the puck-carrier or cover the open man. The decision is his”

    Nope, not at all. Never, never, never.

    The decision is the Defenseman’s – and the D has to be very clearly telling the forward which guy to take.

  17. John says:

    Nope, sorry Titan. In some cases that may be correct, but in last night’s, it wasn’t. Troy Brouwer committed to the man he intended to mark, Hjalmarsson has to react based on that. He doesn’t decide who Brouwer is supposed to go after. That’s preposterous.

  18. Francis Roberts says:

    Marts, thanks for the great “live” comments. Even on tv Boyton looked a step slow all night. Was Leddy hurt in period 2, or was Q just ticked off at him? Agree that Hossa still seems hurt. He is not going strong into the corners for the puck, and it looks like he cannot elevate his shot at all. Hawks were not good on the forecheck, so they were not producing the turnovers that defeat a clogging defense. The 4th line is one of their best forechecking lines, and they again played bupkis minutes, so there you go.

  19. Marts says:

    @ Francis Roberts – I think Leddy was just collecting splinters as I didn’t specifically see him being tended to. To be entirely truthful, I wasn’t looking for him as much as I was cursing Boynton’s presence on the game sheet. Leddy is Leddy out there… to me a young guy with good legs that can get muscled off the puck even when he is in superior position (not unexpected). He has creative gifts which allow him to move pucks up ice in ways that forecheckers aren’t expecting. He wasn’t “noticeable” out there which is fine by me for a 5th (or 6th) d-man.

    My wife thought Boynton looked like he has stayed up drinking Scotch and smoking Marlboro’s until 4am for the last 10 years. When I told her he was younger than me she nearly fainted. Ha!

    I agree with both John & Titan on the back-checking. There are definitely circumstances where the D-Man needs to be directing traffic (particularly on 2 or 3-on-1’s), but in other occasions when the forward has buried his head (and is trying to tap into some reserve fuel) the d-man has to adjust his defensive responsibilities. Personally (as a d-man myself) I prefer that the forward stick with the trailer as it’s dangerous and easy to get caught in a tic-tac-toe gap if you try and slow your speed at all. I also don’t believe that the stick (or man coverage) is as good when you’ve got both guys skating in the same direction. I’m not sure why but it always seems that the back-checker starts gliding when they get on the crease-crashers hip, which usually leaves an open stick. Also, if the guy driving the net gets a line and dips his shoulder it’s sayonara for the back-checker, he’ll never be able to hold his positioning as well as a d-man backing in (nor is he in a position to tie/lift the stick).

    At the end of the day it’s reps in practice, discipline and a little more communication on ice. The d-man definitely has the best perspective to see where the play is going and, generally, is more able to adjust his coverage. Hjally blew that one and that somebody’s got to read that Backlund goal better too. He flew in entirely unabated.

  20. John says:

    The Backlund goal came as a result of Keith trying to make a change when the other team had the puck. That was the second game in a row he’s done that. I can’t remember who had the breakaway for the Canucks but it was nearly a carbon copy except for the finish.

  21. Patrick says:

    Did anyone see the highlights from the ‘Ning / Sabers game last night? Roloson got blatantly tripped standing in his goal crease by a Sabers player about a second or so before the goal went in – and it counted! Makes me think even more that the Brouwer call against Vancouver was utter bullshit.

  22. SouthSideHawkMan says:

    I certainly understand all the cap moves that had to be made, but what I am questioning is what the Hawks got in return. Hawks need 2 points tonight in Edmonton period.

  23. Marts says:

    Ummm, does Frolik solve our quest for a #2 centre? Can’t hurt. Based on paper, I’ll give this trade a thumbs up…

  24. Cam says:

    Off topic, but Antti Niemi has been tremendous lately and terrific since the beginning of December.

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