Blackhawks Confidential

Quenneville's line tampering continues, but so does Blackhawks slide

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If the Chicago Blackhawks played the first 58 minutes as they did the final two, maybe we'd be talking about a victory.  Instead the Hawks responded to Saturday's 8-3 drubbing in Columbus with an uninspired effort in a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jackets before an uneasy crowd at the United Center. 

Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville continued his juggling act with another revamped lineup, but the names on the back of the jerseys mean little when it comes to lost puck battles, ill-timed turnovers, questionable passing and poor decision making.  Q will undoubtedly continue to trot out new line combos until a spark ignites, but has the coach's tinkering done more harm than good?

Quenneville's new master stroke was to separate Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook after the team's miserable performance in Ohio.  Keith and Brent Sopel celebrated their new partnership with a minus-2 performance.  So much for Keith's Norris trophy chances.  It just slid right down Sopel's arched back.

The pair was on the ice for the first two Blue Jackets goals with Keith losing a board battle, Sopel missing a clearing attempt and Columbus' Andrew Murray lifting a rebound over the fallen Antti Niemi to knot the score 1-1 at 10:44 of the first period.  The Jackets took the lead for good when Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews lost a battle behind the Columbus goal and the resulting 3-on-2 rush ended with a Jakub Voracek tip-in goal after Derick Brassard's shot hit the unaware Sopel and dropped into the empty crease with Niemi well-out of the net.

The Hawks also had more changes on a struggling powerplay, but the troubles continued as the special teams unit finished 0 for 4.  Even though Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason had some great stops included in his 33 save effort, the Hawks should not be interested in moral victories.  Good chances aren't an acceptable objective.  Good efforts need to result in goals.

Yet Quenneville's troops continue to bypass shots for the extra pass.  Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane were both guilty of attempting the fancy play when simple execution must have been preached from behind the bench.  Kane had a particularly poor night as he finished as a minus-3 and incurred a selfish unsportsmanlike penalty with less than five minutes remaining and the Hawks down by two.

A coach's control of a team will always be questioned when his players are needlessly whining to a referee about a non-call when the puck is still in play.  Is that the case here with Quenneville or is it another example that Kane's maturity is a work in progress?  I'll go with the latter for now, but Q might have a few more beads of sweat glistening in his stache.

With Kane in the penalty box, the Hawks once again showed that they are more dangerous a man down than a man up.  A great Seabrook pass sprung Sharp for the shorthanded breakaway and the Hawks forward beat Mason between the legs to bring the Hawks within one at 16:47 of the third.  But Voracek's empty net goal late in the final period doused the comeback and sent Quenneville back to the labratory.

The Blackhawks stopped responding to their coach's lineup tampering long ago and my hope is that the players have not fractured over the handling of a fragile goaltending situation.  The team was obviously not prepared to battle for Cristobal Huet's job in Columbus.  Read into that what you will.

Plus, continually throwing out new player combinations makes it look less likely that you actually know what you're doing.  After awhile the intended affect wears off and the result takes a more reckless appearance to both the fans and the players.

The new defensive pairings did produce better results than the disaster in Columbus, but I'd prefer to point to last week's triumph over Phoenix as a marker.  And that lineup contained the below-average Nick Boynton instead of the oft-injured Sopel.  The hunch-backed defenseman is a valuable commodity in a limited role, just not as Keith's partner.

I'm sure Quenneville will continue to tinker, but the clock is ticking.  However, the faults of this team do not reside in a notebook or on a chalkboard.  It's all about desire and execution.  Those two commodities have been lacking from the Blackhawks as of late.  It's up to Quenneville to get them back.  He has two weeks.



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iplagitr said:


Yeah, go Hawks! If they keep this up, Detroit may win the division after all. And I can't wait to see the updated NHL Power Rankings....

beaverwarrior said:


Yeppers, Detroit may yet win the division.

Hostile Hawk said:


It sucks. I am not happy with these efforts and questioning the coaching more and more everyday.
Niemi looks good, but is making little mistakes that can be fixed during practices. He really over committed on a few occasions, but shows strong reflexes.
This team is extremely jumbled up and even when they outplay teams are having a really hard time clicking. Confused coaching and frustrated players loosing the fight.
The olympics have seemed to have hurt this team. Hopefully they can change this momentum by playoff time.

VegasHawksFan said:


Well, it's nice to not hear about Huet even though the team isn't really playing any different with Niemi in net.

Dark Blue Jacket said:


Thanks again for another great game! Your team really knows how to bring out the best in mine!

Hope you guys do well in the playoffs!

Jerry Kayne said:


Another lackluster performance or was the Hawks game plan too easy to figure out and counter? Puck possession is important only if you finish, and the Hawks haven't been finishing and that's affecting everything. Put the lines back together and ride with them. They'll get it back.

Instead of ratcheting up my intensity and loud complaining I'm stepping back and taken a sobering look at a team that is simply gripping the stick too tight. By doing this I've found myself a lot calmer and introspective about the Hawks.

There's are a lot of expectations riding on this year and I think they're cracking up. Last year there were no expectations and look how loose they played. There was no pressure early in the season when they dominated and put the puck in the net.

Pretty soon there will be a lot of finger pointing and bad feelings for each other creating a real downward turn for the worse at the start of the playoffs. I'm calling for a team building exercise to help them relax and regroup. Maybe a quick trip to the Bahamas for the players & coaches. Maybe all they need is a diet of pineapple and golf cart racing for a couple of days. Or a trip to Chuckie Cheese.

PS. To One Team. Your posts have been more constructive lately and we appreciate that. We may be Hawks fans but we can understand your posts. We get it. Building a cup winning team takes time so be patient. Bowman's a genius and doesn't care about today and builds for tomorrow. A young goalie needs ice time to develop. There are better examples out there, see Gretzky and the Oilers of the 80s. You also know that if you don't win now, you may not get a chance again. We know patience, believe me.

Hockey Broad said:


While I can't speak for the team's viewpoint, the coach is coming across as indecisive or wishy-washy. Mucking about with line combinations should be resolved in practice, not out in live game time.

Right now, the focus should be on putting the strongest players in, into positions and combinations they're secure about, to finish out the season on a high note. If Keith/Seabrook has been stellar all season, why break them up now? If Boynton is playing better than Sopel, why not put him in the game? If Niemi's more consistent than Huet, give him the goal.

A lot of people look at the Capitals and think Ovechkin's short suspension would hurt the team, but if anything, the games without him were just as good if not better. The Caps have it together this year. So does San Jose, and Phoenix - the Cinderella story of the year - is doing better than anybody would've expected six months ago.

The Blackhawks have the talent and skills to win the Cup this year, yes. The Olympics are a month gone, so post-Games-fatigue is no longer a viable excuse. Injured top players? The rest of the players should take it as rising to the challenge of proving themselves as worthy of first line.

Is this a perpetual cycle among Chicago sports teams - raise our hopes sky-high, and crash and burn on final approach to the playoffs? Say it ain't so, Joel.

iplagitr said:


I'm wondering what Hawk fans and the contributors to the blog would have been writing if the Hawks had won the game last night. In reality, looking at the goals for both teams last night, they were only a couple good bounces away from an ugly win. I'm not saying they played a great game, but really bad luck seems to follow this team like a shadow. I thought Niemi was fine, and they're doing something right when they outshoot the opposition 36-20. According to the stats, the Hawks also out hit them, had more takeaways, and won more faceoffs. They might not have given 100%, but the effort was there to that extent. The glaring errors are still the turnovers and obviously not finishing their chances by putting the puck into the net. The Hawks outshoot more teams than anyone else in the league. Why does this talented roster have so much trouble finding the back of the net?

Also, it seems to me that Kane and Hossa try to do too much on their own when the team gets down. They play well, but lose focus of the team effort by trying to singlehandedly stick-handle around the entire opposing team. Kane looked really frustrated in the 3rd period last night.

SDSTAN said:

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I agree, frustration was evident last night, they are squeezing the sticks too hard. If they would just simplify their game and not try to beat 4 guys at the blueline, things will turn around. Get pucks behind the D and go to work. On the powerplay, just get pucks to the net with traffic. Too many times the D is either getting shots blocked or missing the net with these big wind-up slap shots when a simple quick wrister might do more damage.

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