What's reality?

Well, after two embarrassing games, we've seen plenty of commentary. On a pie chart of bitterness, optimism, pessimism and objectivity, I think bitterness is far and away the biggest slice. Clearly, a lot of people are pissed off about the way the team has played and a lot of things being said are what I consider mouthbreather speak; a magical sort of thinking that goes with simply firing coaches and constantly trading players until you get it right. The other end of the spectrum is that this is just two games and basically a blip on the radar. I agree it's not panic time, but with 21 games complete now, I think we've seen a decent view of what to expect. Then again, I felt the same way at ten games http://www.chicagonow.com/puck-powwow/2011/10/random-sample/ and not much of my outlook from that has changed.

The bitterness I've seen around I think, comes from having way overestimated how much the team improved. Most of the moves SB made were ones we approved of. Not every player has delivered all the goods, but for a short period of time, this was a tougher team to play against. Why that has changed is a good question to ask. On individual players, I also think most views are either too glowing or too harsh. Stalberg, as one example, is a guy who has improved. He's not a savior but he's not a curse. When the team is having a good night, he's likely having a good night. When the team is sucking ass, he's getting his pocket picked the same as anyone else. I bring up Stalberg as an example because I don't see him as a difference maker either way. If the core is not performing, he's not going to save the day on a regular basis. Likewise, when the core is performing well, he's not going to hurt the team with a bad turnover and is likely going to score a goal if he's in the right spot. He's a guy who has some really good assets, that, if deployed properly will help the team. But the bottom line will still be, what are the core players he's paired with doing?

Defensively, the league has figured out how to beat the Hawks. What we want to see is a tough D core who stands up opposing teams and shows some jam. It's not going to happen. Hammer, Keith and Leddy are 6'3, 6'1 and 6'0 respectively and the average weight for that group is 200 lbs. Seabrook is a bit bigger, but neither he nor Hammer CONSISTENTLY play "big". Collectively, these are good players, but I believe people want them to be something they are never going to be, namely gritty in your face guys. Since the year before the cup run, they have never been crease clearers, overly aggressive hitters and IMO, they have NEVER handled an aggressive forecheck well, especially Keith. Where they burned teams was on their transition game. Leddy has been great and still has great upside. But, whether people state it this clearly or not, the same complaints I hear about him are the same complaints I heard about Campbell, minus the money.  Where I will agree with people on John Scott is this, no one will fight him, he's not good enough to both play the game and intimidate other players, and as such, is not helping the team. However, as both Monty and OD have shown, one or two beefy guys is not enough to change the complexion of what this team's D is about. If they can't transition quick, they really can't bring the best of what they have to offer.

On the forward side, we still seem to be asking the same questions and making the same suggestions of what will make them dominant. Toews will make players around him look better, but so, it seems, will Marion Hossa. I heard a lot of talk about the chemistry between Sharp and Kane, but honestly, I believe Hossa has been the straw stirring the drink of both lines. Now that Hossa is back up top, I've seen more then a few comments around saying (again) what we need to do is go out and get a solid second line center and drop Carcillo down to the third or fourth line "where he belongs". In essence, we are right back to where we started the season wherein there just doesn't seem to be any compilation of this group that seems to work on a nightly basis. To Stals and Carbomb's credit, I think each has done what's been asked of them. Both have started to play a little more body and both have gone to the net. I don't know what some other "big body" would do that these two are not. I have enormous respect for the skill of Kane, Toews, Hossa and Sharp. But at this point, I feel like I've heard a few too many times, "They need solid finishers around them". Bruno's too slow, Stals hands are stone, Carcillo's really not that good and is holding Kane back, while last year it was Brouwer needs to make more hits, Bickell needs to hit more (that's true, but you still get the drift) and on and on. These top four are very skilled players, at some point, I think it's on them to find a way to mesh with lesser skilled players.

So if they aren't as good and aren't as bad as we say, then what? Well, between Tallon and SB (and Sr. B) the team has been built to live and die on its transition. In the cup year, they did it with deadly accurate stretch passes or at least they did when they weren't getting hemmed in with a forecheck. Last year, the rest of the league took that away from them and then SB went out and tried to address alleged areas of concern. Did he completely swing and miss? Did his best players refuse to adapt what they want to do to the skill level of the players coming in? I say it's in between, dissonance if you will. Montador is not a failure to me, but of the bunch, I think he has struggled the most trying to fit and is the best example of what the problem is. Carbomb, OD and Mayers IMO looked like they knew what their role was from day one and went from looking complimentary to looking like the only guys willing to engage. Montador, I believe was looked at as being the perfect hybrid of snarl and scoring and that his leadership would inspire the same in others. That it hasn't happened I think is less reflection on him then on the prevailing attitudes that were already entrenched. A trade down the road may still work, but I think it's pointless until the dissonance is addressed. With the skill of the top four forwards, there is just too much talent to say they can't succeed without better players around them and I think there is too much talent to say they can't improve their breakouts and play with a little "edge".

So what does Q do? Well, after watching the last game, I really feel like it's time to put the core on notice and sit some players. Q has been called an X's and O's coach by a lot of former players and everyone looked out of place last night. Line juggling may be one excuse, but I also think more then a few players now are starting to turtle up when they can't execute the game they want to play or they start to try and force something they know won't be there and even Toews was guilty of this by the end of the night with utterly predictable wraps around the net that were blocked by prone players. I believe Q has the ability to figure this out, but his players have also got to buy in. I'll give him some benefit of doubt that his players are not stepping up, but the longer I see him not sit players makes me start to lean toward him not having the will or the plan to sort this out. At ten games, I said something along these line, "At any given point, this year's team is going to be better then last year's team and bit by bit improve though not stunningly so". At twenty games and at most points last season, the Hawks proved my chemistry teacher right in that they were a 500 team from start to finish. Their place in the standings right now is perhaps better then they really deserve and that likely will be the case at several points along the way this year. What will be most important is where they land at seasons end and how well they have come together by then. If they start to play as a true team and stand up for each other, one or two trades coupled with the release of John Scott may make a difference. Until they begin to work better as a team though, I don't see any outside catalyst appearing that will suddenly change everything.

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  • The players that were brought in this offseason have been pretty solid in their roles. Montador looks like he is finally getting comfortable and has been a pleasant surprise offensively. He is already half way to his career high of 8 goals. Mayers is doing exactly what was expected of him. I have been impressed with Carcillo. He has played better that I expected, but he does not belong on the second line. He is a 3rd liner, and I think that is where brass imagined him to be when they signed him. Brunette was brought in to help the scoring up front and he has been a big disapointment. He has not been a threat and is a -6 right now. He is having his worst year offensively, and, with these players around him, he should be having a great year.

    I agree that our defensemen do not handle the forecheck very well. Hjalmarsson is afraid of any contact. He blocks shots with the best of them, but if he is going for the puck and a player is coming at him, he usually turns it over as he is trying to avoid the hit. He constantly gets pushed around in front of the net. I like him, but we overpayed for him when we tried to keep him from San Jose.

    Going into this season, I hoped to see improved play from Frolik. I haven't seen it yet. Earlier in the season, he had plenty of scoring chances, but the puck just couldn't find the net. He needs to get on track.

  • I turned on the Oilers game in the 2nd period and just laughed. Even when losing, the Hawks are doing it with flair this season.

    I don't think there are problems with the personnel on this team. It's all about lack of motivation. Last year they had the hangover to blame it on - this year they're just being lazy. Most of the games they've lost you could tell they were going to lose within the first 10 minutes.

    Illogical scenarios like beating the Nucks 5-1 one night and then being drubbed 14-4 by the Flames / Oilers a few days later will not be remedied by trading a few players. This team has had significant consistency issues in the enthusiasm department for the past two seasons. Obviously, the only thing the Hawk players were thinking about on Saturday night while on the ice was their upcoming getaway to Las Vegas.

    Speaking of that, Vegas, have you seen any Hawks around town?

  • No, I haven't seen the guys around town, though I have to admit I have been laid low after pulling an adductor muscle in my leg on thursday. I'm still not even back to being day to day yet LOL! I was briefly on the strip on Sunday for dinner, but I didn't see anyone. It would have been cool if they had used the rink I play at, but I don't think that happened.

  • I just want to say really quick that this is a cool blog. As a huge Blackhawks fan, it is nice to read the comments about the team. I live in Rockford, Illinois and have season tickets to the Icehogs, so I get to see alot of the young guys progress and it is nice to see them when they get to the Blackhawks. I had just learned of this this week and I am impressed. Keep up the good work.

  • In reply to BigJack:

    Thanks Jack, for stopping by and coming back. Anybody really standing out for you right now on the Hogs?

  • Unfortunately, no. It is scary how similar the Hogs and the Hawks are playing right now. They let everybody camp in front of the net and do nothing to clear them out. The power play is horrible, and there is no teamwork. The only player that plays strong is Richards in net. He does a solid job with no defense around him. Salak has been playing alot lately, but has no produced. Not much to look forward to right now.

  • In reply to BigJack:

    Hmm, that's kind of disturbing to hear, but at least the prospects won't feel lost when they come up eh?

  • Did anyone watch Sid's return last night? WOW! I think the smart money is on the Pens coming out of the East if Sid stays healthy the rest of the way.

    His backhander was gross last night. Amazing.

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    2008 winter classic Pens beat sabres, Wings win the cup
    2009 winter classic Wings beat Hawks Pens win cup
    2010 winter classic Bruins beat Flyers Hawks win cup
    2011 winter class Caps beat Pens, Bruins win cup

    Three straight cups now won by teams who had been in the previous years winter classic. I still don't count out the Caps, but even without Crosby, the Pens are a solid and very hard working team. Pre playoffs, were do you think your Wings wind up OT?

  • Yes, I did see Sid's return, and it was nothing short of amazing.

    BigJack, glad your here, glad you like it, and thanks for bringing another set of eyes to the group.

    There was a lot said in this post. I feel like you nailed most of it. Got to agree with iplagitr, motivation is a huge part of it. I think a trade could help the situation, but it would not be a miracle cure or anything. I questioned some of the decisions coming into the start and I feel like those issues might be presenting themselves as the season roles on. A trade could help. But, again, it comes back to wanting it.

    This is again where I look at Q. His team is not prepared for games, they don't seem to want it, other teams are attacking their weaknesses, but the Hawks seem to have no idea about who they are playing from night to night. I feel fair in my critiques of Q, as I have had them since the get-go, but like Vegas said, there really isn't one cure all.

    I should save some juice for a post tomorrow.

  • In reply to Hostile Hawk:

    I watched most of the Oilers Preds game tonight and parts of the Kings Blues. Oilers spanked the Preds 6-2 though that second goal from the preds came with just seconds to go. 6 goals from the Preds is nearly as bad as the Hawks letting in 9. Trotz team works hard every night and is usually very defensively sound and when they had a 5-3 advantage for nearly a minute, they looked every bit as bad as the Hawks. Don't be surprised if the Oil comes out of nowhere like the Hawks did before they won the cup. They are playing like a team and they all have each others back.

    To your point about Q HH, I've tried to step back and just be more objective this year. Where I agree with you wholeheartedly is that his team has been coming out lately looking unprepared. Some nights, it looks like they haven't watched a second of film, other nights, they just look disinterested. Watching the Oil tonight, they are a team that looks like they want it. Even the Blues are carrying themselves a little differently now that Hitch is at the helm. Though I drifted away from looking hard at Q, one thing that is steering me back into being critical of him is that I don't feel like he's held any of his core accountable lately. If Keith is trying to do too much, I guess that's admirable in one respect. But if he's trying to do too much and challenging what the coaches are preaching while playing shitty, that's another story.

    Reading other blogs, it seems like people are just trying to get back on track and focus their angst on John Scott. If that's all we have to complain about after a solid win tomorrow, I might even get on that bandwagon!

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