Blackhawks Confidential

Unprepared Blackhawks fall victim to uptempo Predators

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The Hawks not only lost the game, they appear to have lost their identity.

Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville has done such a good job mixing line combinations his own players have no idea which role they play.  Or at least that's how it appears after the Nashville Predators made quick work of a confused Hawks group with a convincing 4-1 victory as the underdog seventh seed grabbed a 2-1 advantage in the best of seven series.

The game was decided well before Martin Erat sealed the Hawks fate with a successful penalty shot late in the third period.  Though it was a familiar feeling for Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi who was alone on an island all night.  The Finnish netminder needed to bail out his teammates early and often, but even his ship turned out to be full of holes.

Two seperate, but similar plays highlighted a Hawks effort that left their faithful fans dazed and confused.  Niemi needed to make a stellar save to stop David Legwand on a powerplay breakaway in the first period after a poor decision by Dave Bolland led to a turnover.  Then early in the second period with the Hawks on the powerplay, Dustin Byfuglien's indecisiveness led to Niemi needing to make another stout stop to dissallow a point-blank Predators threat.

Tonight was a much different looking game then the first two contests in the United Center.  Nashville took the action right to the Hawks in what at times was a wide open affair.  But that didn't favor the Hawks who were both outshot (35-27) and outhit (32-18) by a determined Predators squad.  The Hawks seemed ill-prepared for a team that wanted to skate instead of trap.  It was the Preds who dictated all the action and the Hawks had no response.

"It goes with our effort.  We knew they were going to be better, that they were going to come with more energy in their own building," said somber Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.  "We didn't prepare.  We didn't expect that enough as we came in here."

What is that captain?  You weren't prepared?  Well whose fault is that?  Is it Quenneville who can only get his team to respond with gimmick moves?  Or is it the quiet Toews who's playoff contributions have been downright silent?

Toews may be the captain, but few of the Hawks have followed his lead and copied his simple approach.  The Hawks are making nothing simple.  Until shooting lanes stop becoming passing lanes the Nashville fans will keep waving those silly towels.  The gameplan is being preached, but nobody appears to be listening.

"[We need to] recognize that it's tough to generate off the rush when you have three, four and five guys back,"  Quenneville said.  "I still think that simplicity is what get's us through."

Byfuglien let Joel Ward's backhanded rebound goal look simple when the defenseman was beaten to a loose puck that laid to the right of Niemi.  Nashville's 1-0 first period lead was aided by a winded Hawks team that needed to kill three straight penalties including selfish retaliation minors by Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg.  But the Preds own undiscliplined play caught up with the home team as Kopecky made amends with a powerplay tip-in goal that allowed the Hawks to escape the opening period with a 1-1 tie.

Instead of responding with a spirited effort in the second after a dissaponting opening session, the visitors were forced to watch the Predators build a two-goal cushion for the final period.  Steve Sullivan lead a Nashville rush as a Chicago powerplay expired that ended with the former Blackhawk assisting on a Legwand goal as Brent Seabrook was caught pinching too deep into the offensive zone.

And though my Dad's gaurantee fell flat, Marian Hossa did deflect a puck into the net.  Only it was off a blast from Shea Weber at the blueline and past Niemi for a commanding 3-1 Preds lead midway through the middle twenty.  Even though the game was only half over, the outcome seemed set after Weber's tally.

Nashville provided confirmation of that presumption by dominating the opening minutes of the third period.  The Hawks had no response on Tuesday night in Tennessee.  The only question is what will the Hawks answer be on Thursday?
 
Some are already speculating that the 2-1 deficit will force the Hawks to bring back Brian Campbell earlier than expected.  While it would be nice to have his speed on the backend, the Hawks would be foolish to think that Soup will be their cure in this series.  The rest of the showdown with Nashville isn't about personnel, it's about attitude. 

All of Q's button pushing has made it difficult for the players to find their own way out.  But no line swap is going to save them now.  As far as I'm concerned Adam Burish, Brian Campbell and anyone else can stay on the sidelines.  They won't make a bit of difference if the mindset of the team doesn't change.

I don't question if this team wants it.  I only wonder how badly they need it.

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10 Comments

HawksRule said:

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I never thought I'd use the fast-forward button on my DVR during a Blackhawks playoff game -- until last night. I've never seen the team look more flat and boring than in these last three games, but last night was especially pathetic. What are they thinking? They've been waiting for the playoffs since day-one this season. Now it's here and they have no interest in playing the game. You watch any other NHL series and it's high-octane playoff hockey, and then you come back to the Hawks and it's like waiting for water to boil.

VegasHawksFan said:

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My view for awhile now has been that Q ran out of tricks almost two months ago and this game has only solidified that outlook. Since I knew ahead of time the Hawks had lost, I watched this game very closely. In the first period, I thought the Hawks were actually playing pretty well. There were executing a solid fore check and back check and in my opinion, were rewarded by the Preds playing a more open game. After getting shutout, the Preds opened up substantially and the Hawks could not take advantage of that. After the first period though, the Preds had the confidence to return to choking the shit out of the game and as we have seen all year, the Hawks returned to being hopeless when facing a brick wall defense.

I'm going to live up to my avatar and say I don't believe the Hawks were outworked or out hustled at all. They flat out got beat by a team that was able to open up their game and then shut it down against a team that had no cohesion going at all. Other blogs here are starting to call out Toews and the rest of the team for their effort, but I just don't agree. From the get go, Q was fucking with the lines and even Edzo was commenting in the third period how this was contributing to multiple instances of blown coverage leaving point guys wide open. Strangely, the Hawks were truly at their best on the penalty kill and I honesty think you have to ask yourself what that means for even strength. As for Niemi, I accept that first goal when you shut a team out the previous game. Hossa's deflection was an unfortunate bounce and then the D flat out hung him out to dry on the other two. He was no Rinne last night, but he was not horrible.

I absolutely give Trotz credit for outcoaching Q. After getting shut out by being beat at their own game, he has his team open the game up and stop camping on the offensive zone blue line. After the Hawks were unable to deal with that, he changed the tempo mid game and went back to shutting it down after they had the lead. His defense has kept the Hawks big guns quiet, and Q's perpetual line shuffling has truly left his team looking baffled. I think their effort is fine and that they now need a coach with composure and a solid gameplan.

blkhawk11 said:

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Good points illustrated here, Mark, but there seems to be too much emphasis by Q to keep changing lines around ever since Olympics and attitude does play a key part to the missing dimensions of the Hawks efforts or the lack of with no consistency whatever. One just has to look at the other series as a whole and each team seems to at least put forth the efforts in a more consistent fashion than the Hawks. Why try and fix something that worked for this team in the past...resort back to the time when it was working and possibly the team could get it all together and show the results of playing to win with dignity and pride in an all team effort!!! Am I wrong in this assumption?

iplagitr said:

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The Preds definitely deserve some credit in these wins, but the Hawks are absolutely playing down to the level of the lesser team. We saw a lot of this in the regular season when they would put up huge efforts against top teams but then flounder against the bottom-dwellers. I think they would have been better off playing the Wings in the first round.

I agree the never-ending line-juggling is confusing the players, but that aside, I see no intensity, no desire, no desperation whatsoever in their game. They all talk about the playoffs being a different season, but no one is living up to it. And if I hear Toews come out with another comment along the lines of "he can't figure out why they come out flat" I'm going to scream. You compare these games to the fiery team efforts they put up in last year's playoffs against Calgary and Vancouver and it's night and day. What are they waiting for? With this roster all they really need is 100% effort on all fronts, and they're not even close to that right now. They're beating themselves in this series, and they wasted a game last night altogether.

Hostile Hawk said:

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The Hawks are getting out-coached. Pure and simple. This leads to the Hawks feeling frustrated and then defeated. (to go along with nklkd and blkhawk11)
I have been calling Q out on the line changes for months now,(my last post detailed that fact) and what we are seeing now is the reaction to it. The fact that Q is getting out-coached by a simple yet determined system only exaggerates Q's bad choices during the season. No one knows what the hell they are doing out there, how did this happen?
But, if the Hawks were able to cash in on some of their earlier attempts (Toews missing a half empty net after a beautiful pass, Versteeg not tucking that breakaway right in the five-hole) this would have been a completely different game. The missing of those prime scoring chances caused the team to get frustrated and then they relied on Niemi way too much to bail them out.
This game is in no way Niemi's fault. He made some amazing saves later in the first to keep his team in the game. Eventually the defeated attitude that was being expressed by the Hawks hit him as well, coupled with a few bad bounces and there you go, a 4-1 victory. Niemi played well and that score in no way illustrates his play.
This Hawks team has no system and no consistency due to indecisive coaching. They have relied on their sheer talent before, but it is a different game in the playoffs.
Still I think things can definitely be turned around for the Hawks.

SDSTAN said:

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Hey Q, here is a great line combo for you, put Kane with Madden and Eager, we will light the lamp for sure. QUIT F..ING WITH THE LINES! How can there be any flow to their game when they are playing with someone different on every other shift (Ok I am exaggerating a bit). That being said, you have to give Nashville credit, they really handed it to the Hawks last night. Unbelievable to say in such an important game but this was probably their worst showing of the season besides the Columbus debacle. They better "find another level" as Sharp says and grow a pair or this thing is over.

OneTeam said:

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Your best players have to be your best players in the playoffs plain and simple. Maybe if they were producing, Q wouldnt have to keep twisting the rubics cube. You can chicken and egg this thing if you want but when Toews and Hossa are still virtually pointless, you have to keep mixing to find the right match up.

VegasHawksFan said:

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You're right about top players, but I think Pow Wow is also correct about system and consistency. Trotz and Tippet are doing it with strong systems and comparatively less talent. Foundation sets up talent to succeed. Most people here have said the same things all year, and little has changed on the ice. The teams they were struggling to beat early season were the same teams they were struggling to beat at the end. Now we have the Hossa curse to match the stupid Billy Goat curse of the Cubs. Great.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Only 1 team wanted to win last night. Vertseeg and Buff blew they're coverages that led to all 4 goals.

With no one clogging up the middle and getting to the few rebounds, they're as doomed as doomed can be. It's not over yet, but they better get on their collective horse.

lizhawksfan15 said:

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Ugh, god FINALLY! Thank you for pointing out the Hawks' hallow words! Every time they lose, it's always "We need to keep it simple." Next game? They continue to try to be fancy! It's SO frustrating! And where is the leadership? Toews isn't stepping up, Q isn't stepping up. I love this team, but I am starting to feel that they are a bunch of premadonnas who were just expecting this to be handed to them on a silver platter, and it's disappointing me big time. I don't have kids but I think I would feel the same way if, let's say, one of them got arrested for shoplifting or something. This team should know of best of ANYONE that there are NO GUARANTEES IN THE PLAYOFFS!! Aaaahhh! Such a disappointment.

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