Simplified approaches lead to balanced efforts by the Hawks. We saw what it can do in the win column only a few games ago, and then we saw how it can destroy the Hawks in the last 2.
A common complaint amongst the Hawks blogosphere and media alike has been the inconsistent efforts of the Chicago Blackhawks. Scoring 6 goals one game, and getting shut-out the next, Defense was seemingly non-existent with offensive onslaughts the only noticeable solution deployed by the talent heavy roster. A recipe for disaster, It was only a matter of time until this type of strategy would spell out disaster. Getting blown out by lesser capable teams and a sudden drop in point production soon did come, and the critics did yell.
Jump to today, where the Hawks had put together a decent stretch of hockey by any measure, and again fond themselves at the top looking down, however slight that vantage point was. Then, to only fall about as far in 2 games that had none of what I am about to talk about. But, points are not the only reason the critics are finally getting excited (by critics, I mean myself, I speak for no one else). And, as a teacher, my questionable mind leads to ask why?
Simple. The Blackhawks are either playing a balanced game that takes into account their defensive needs, or they are not. The difference is 2 points. The offense had started to look like they know where to be in the defensive zone and have started showing a desire to even be there. This improved on a breakout that was so reliant on long stretch passes and individual speed, while also dramatically lowering the goals against count racked up in contests until this point. Sure, the Hawks can score goals, but they are also pretty darn good at getting scored on. Goaltenders have some of the responsibility on their performances, but the bulk does not rest on their shoulders. And yet, I call for Emery's start as the #1 goaltender after the break.
A key ingredient in the recipe for success can be found in the most simple of places. With Patrick Sharp sidelined for a decent amount of time, the administration turned to new and untested prospects. These players brought a simple, driven, and cohesive approach to an otherwise chaotic Hawks system. There is no magic here. If you are where you are supposed to be (playing positioned hockey) and do your best to win the one-on-one battles, good things will happen.
In what can only be a miracle sent down by the gods of hockey, Coach Q started doing maybe my single largest request of him throughout his tenure with the Hawks. He started rolling a full 4 lines, cutting down on the “core players” ice-time, and limiting the pressures of certain individuals. Rather, he realized that he has a full team to work with, and this paid out in unquestionable positive results. Fresh legs, a team full of secondary scoring, and better support had finally allowed the Hawks the ability to fix those little things that could kill.
But was it too late? Maybe having already been stretched too far, Jonathan Toews suffered an injury (something I think we all saw coming given his previous minutes on the ice). This pretty much caused a collapse of everything gained in the few games prior. It served to better highlight the captain's importance, and also provided more reasons to question the coaching impact on this team. Is it Toews or Q who controls the troops?
A simplified approach had calmed this team down, and allowed them to play hockey. Players in the right positions, support from the offense in the defensive zone had helped the Hawks keep chances against down, and even gave an extra boost to the breakout. Lowering players ice-time, such as Leddy and Hjalmer allowed them to settle down and repair their overall games. But as soon as it came, it was gone, and then the Hawks were beat by the team who wrote the book on simple hockey.
Deciding on the 6th Defenseman as opposed to rolling 3 different players in and out had finally brought balance to the force as well. Defensive breakdowns a game later has a guy like me seriously considering the need for a new top 4 man, with O'Donnell getting the boot.
It seemed as though all of this has also helped Q, and his management team see the rewards of consistent line-combos. Players were beginning to react without having to over think their next move, or wonder if their support would be there. This helped smoother passes along, better back-checking, and even a better offensive production, from a healthier spread of names on the roster.
However, Toews was still leading the charge and doing his thing, as were other juggernauts on the team, but there was less of a reliance on these “core” players. The team had seemingly become balanced overnight, thanks to a few young newcomers. Balance will only make for a tougher team to play against. I believed that the Hawks had finally become a team 2 games ago, that would represent the toughest contender to beat in the playoffs, or at least were on that path. It all started with simplification. And then, it all ended with simplification as the Preds taught the Hawks a lesson in it.
What I can say has stuck a bit is the power-play results. The Hawks actually looked semi productive on the man-advantage lately. In what might be the largest example of things just mentioned in this post, the Hawks found goals by making the simple play and not over thinking it. I wish I could say the same for Kane who seems lost in his own superstar skill.
This post obviously ignores all of the issues regarding trades, and the rumors thereof, but I felt like it needed to be said. I am no stranger to the criticisms of coach Q, and I do think a change in leadership could lead to better results and surely more cohesive ones, but I also see the Hawks playing better when everything is more balanced on the ice, and roles simply defined.
Filed under: View from the Bench