When the Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead against Phoenix on Wednesday night, all signs pointed toward a victory. The Hawks were controlling the tempo, moving the puck, and getting quality chances. Add the fact that Phoenix was 0-5-2 when giving up the first goal and it looked like a gift-wrapped, much needed Blackhawks win. Unfortunately, the Coyotes never got the memo.
Phoenix battled back against a lazy, out of sync Hawks team and handed them a 2-1 loss, the Hawks' 4th straight loss on home ice. While last year's team fed off the energy of the home crowd, this year's Hawks seem to play nervous, dumb hockey at the UC. Home ice play isn't the only concern, however.
This team has had very few good, "team" victories all season. Early in the season when the Hawks were picking up wins, what type of victories were they? For the most part, they were fluky, ugly, and dependent on heroics from Marian Hossa or Patrick Sharp. Even the Hawks' wins this season haven't felt well-deserved.
I know some will say "a win is a win", but that isn't true over the course of an 82-game season. When the 09-10 team played to their capability, they couldn't be touched. Players assumed the role of hero when needed, but it wasn't the only way they picked up two points. This year's team either gets a heroic effort from a player or two, or loses. That's the way the season has gone through 18 games. There still isn't a sense of "team", and that is disturbing considering we are almost twenty games in.
The Hawks are also struggling to win close games. They have already lost seven games by one goal and many of those were the result of a late 3rd period goal by the opponent. Too many points have been left on the ice this season and it's going to bite them in April.
What's the answer? I'm not sure there is one. I never thought I'd see Duncan Keith get blatantly benched, and that happened tonight. Quenneville is scrambling, and with 64 games left, that's scary. Lines haven't been consistent and neither have individual players.
Here are some thoughts: Maybe there are too many below average hockey players on the ice. Maybe the Hawks should stop wasting a roster spot on John Scott and his nine shifts per game. Maybe Tomas Kopecky isn't a top 6 player, and MAYBE he shouldn't be skating 18 minutes a night when his career average is less than 10. Maybe the Hawks should give Kyle Beach, Jeremy Morin, or Igor Makarov a chance to show what they can contribute. At this point, why not?
The Hawks have issues. That is a fact, not something up for debate. Players are under-performing and they haven't looked in sync through almost twenty games. If you're looking for positives, watch Viktor Stalberg, who continues to skate his tail off and make plays. If you're looking for more positives, remember that the Penguins were in 10th place in February two years and ended up winning the cup.
If you'd rather stay down in the dumps, just look at the Hawks' schedule.
Next up, the Hawks get to play the always difficult Nashville Predators on Saturday night. The Hawks struggle to beat Nashville when clicking on all cylinders, so this game could be trouble.
It's early, but if these trends continue, the Hawks will be through 50 games and out of a playoff spot faster than you can say "Stanley Cup hangover."
Blackhawks, Chicago Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville, Marian Hossa, Stan Bowman, Stanley Cup Finals, United Center
Chicago Blackhawks, Igor Makarov, Jeremy Morin, Joel Quenneville, John Scott, Jonathan Toews, Kyle Beach, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Phoenix Coyotes, Stanley Cup, Tomas Kopecky, Twitter, United Center, Viktor Stalberg