As we all search for some hidden reason as to why the Blackhawks have lost their last six games, the answer is actually pretty obvious.
Nothing rips out a team’s will to compete quite like a bad goal at a critical juncture and unlike most things during this streak, the Hawks have had no shortage of those. Conversely, nothing gives life to a team quite like a gift goal. Cases in point:
-In a 1-1 game against Nashville early in the second period, Corey Crawford let in a 110-foot bounce shot from the red line. Once the floodgates closed, it was 4-1 Nashville after two periods and effectively over.
-The Hawks held a 2-0 lead in the second period in Edmonton, lost the lead, then battled back to tie it at 3 heading into the third period. Then within the first four minutes of the third, Crawford was swimming in his crease to leave a wide-open tap-in for Sam Gagner and then hopelessly whiffed on a Cam Barker flip shot from the point. When it was over, it was..no need to relive this.
-The next night in Calgary, the Hawks were tied with Calgary 1-1 heading into the final minute of the second period. A late goal by the Flames gave them the lead and then a 120 foot miracle pass somehow got through Duncan Keith and right on to Jarome Iginla’s stick to seal it.
-Tuesday night in Colorado, the Hawks were tied with the Avalanche to open the third. The Hawks coughed up the puck at the Avalanche blue line, Brent Seabrook was caught wondering who is defensive partner in the 2014 Olympic games will be, and Gabriel Landeskog had enough to time to get a 60 foot slap shot over Ray Emery’s shoulder. Renowned sniper David Jones sealed the game a few minutes later with an off-angle short-side wrist shot over Emery’s glove.
That’s not to say it’s all on the goalie’s shoulders, but at the same time, 4 of these 6 games during this losing streak were either tied heading into the final frame or were a back-and-forth affair late in the second. And each game, the Hawks goalies were unable to make the critical save. So instead of hanging on for a point or even (gasp) letting the team take control of the third period of a tied game, they were left scrambling to score a tying goal or as has been more often the case, multiple goals.
And that’s how they have put themselves in this situation where a win seems as likely as Greece figuring out their economy. Unfortunately, the two guys who can pull this team out of their losing streak the easiest are the two guys most responsible for putting them in this quagmire.
I see a team that is desperately asking its goalies to help shoulder the load. And instead of doing their part, they drop it like a Cam Barker point shot.
I also see a general manager being lambasted for reasons that are not correct. If he deserves any kind of criticism, it should be for opening up all that cap space and then saving it for a trading deadline where it appears no one of value will be moved (as of now, at least). Brendan Morrison would have been a much better acquisition in say, July, when he was an unrestricted free agent and he could have had all of training camp and the pre-season to get accustomed to his new teammates. As opposed to the middle of the longest road trip of the season where he has to learn how to play with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp in Vancouver matched up against the Canucks 3rd line and play the point on the second power play unit.
I see a head coach that is out to prove to the world just how smart he really is. The Hawks penalty kill is about as bad it’s ever been in Joel Quenneville’s tenure. Yet Steve Montador has never played a regular shift on it. Nevermind he led the Sabres in blocked shots last year and has been a penalty killer for the majority of his career. Here’s what Stan Bowman said about him when he signed Montador before free agency opened:
“He’s a style of defenseman we’ve been lacking here,” Bowman said. “He’s got a lot of skill for a guy who has some physicality to his game. He’s actually pretty offensive even though people don’t paint him in that light. He had almost 27 points with no power-play time. He’s got the ability to move the puck.”
It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see Bowman envisioned him to be not only on the power play but also a key cog of the penalty kill from this one quote. Yet against Edmonton while the Hawks spent the majority of the second period shorthanded, John Scott was asked to kill a penalty before him. John Scott. In just one season, Steve Montador has gone from being a regular on the 13th best penalty killing unit to being passed over for John Scott on the 3rd worst penalty killing unit in the league.
It doesn’t stop there.
Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell have been scratched, demoted, promoted, kicked, punched so many times by the Quenneville line juggler that they seem to be unreachable. Frolik looks like the little robot girl from “Small Wonder” after a system overload every time he touches the puck.
On Saturday against Calgary, Frolik had a full-blown shorthanded 2-on-1 from his own blue line. He was so busy stick-handling that the Flames back-checkers caught him before the other blue line. Instead of just putting his head down and skating as hard as he could to open up space for he and Jamal Mayers, Frolik looked like a guy playing with zero confidence.
Bryan Bickell, for all his shortcomings, is still one of the more defensively responsible forwards on the Hawks. With all that’s been going wrong with them lately, you would think someone like that would be coveted in the Hawks lineup. Too bad for Bickell, there was never a Twitter trend named in his honor.
These are two, still very young players who have a track record of success at the highest level and yet here they are, bouncing between the 4th line and press box on a weekly basis. Joel Quenneville has to share in part of that blame.
When the Hawks acquired Brendan Morrison, Stan Bowman gave Joel Quenneville the four centers he’s needed since opening night. However Marcus Kruger, Morrison and Dave Bolland are situated within the lineup, they should be the only four guys playing center along with Jonathan Toews.
For reasons that remain unclear, Jamal Mayers has continued to play center while Marcus Kruger has been moved to the wing. Yes, Kruger is less than stellar at the face-off dot, but so is Dave Bolland. It’s also pretty obvious that Kruger is significantly less effective along the wing than he is at center. It’s counter intuitive to keep Mayers in the middle while Kruger regresses on the wing, for the present and the future.
All this said, the Hawks are just two weeks removed from being at the top of the Western Conference. I don’t think they were able to get that high just because they beat a bunch of second-rate teams they should have; their divison and conference is far too talented for something like that.
So I’ll leave you with a lesson in Hawks history to try to make you feel better. In the strike-shortened ’94-95 season, the Hawks went 0-10-3 in the final month of the season. Without any one getting fired or any ‘core’ players getting traded, they won their last five games of the season and then went on to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Red Wings. So it can get worse, but it will more than likely get better too.