Allstar break conversation: How simplicity could help the Chicago Blackhawks.

Allstar break conversation: How simplicity could help the Chicago Blackhawks.

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

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  • While I was happy with the north-south style of play after the swoon, prior to dropping the two games to the Preds, I'm not sure that this is the way the "team" wants to play—even though that may be the way the team needs to play. By that I mean is this really the way Q wants them to play? It doesn't matter that this is, or could be, dictated by necessity because of an injury. What matters is if all hands are on board.

    To me, this is the fundamental problem with the 2011/12 Blackhawks. There's no identity. Are they a puck moving, puck possession skill-based team or are they a fundamentally sound squad which can throw four effective lines at you every game? I know they want to be a puck possession team but the questions begs: can they be with this roster? Ever since the cap purge, the chemistry around the team seems to be missing. I'm the first to pin this on Q with his frenetic line-juggling and his sometimes inane lineup changes, his over-reliance on the core players, and his seeming inability to give the team in general time to gel. The roles for the role players never seem to be defined and they get jerked up and down throughout the line-up. Yes, team chemistry is not there. I think it's coaching but I'm not oblivious to the fact that he has not had appropriate pieces plugged into the holes resulting from the cap purge. Nothing seems to gel with this club. We do, however, get a glimpse of how much better the team plays when the lines are left intact and all players have a chance to actually feel they are contributing in a meaningful way.

    To his credit, Q has started to roll the lines more efficiently but he still has a strange inclination to make changes for no apparent reason. Bickell in for Frolik last game is one example. Scott in and out, and Lepisto, what's up with him? Two wasted roster spots … Still, Shaw and Hayes have added some of that grit which I think reflects in the relative consistency in play we have seen of late. One has to wonder what would be happening were they not contributing. My guess, nothing would have changed and Q would be playing the wind out of those players who brought him the cup 2 years ago, juggling the line-up constantly

    Defensively, I think this team has a long ways to go. With close to the worst GAA in the conference, and a starting goaltender whose save percentage is not even in the galaxy as far as number one goalies are concerned this is where the improvement needs to take place. Teams now seem to have figured out how to beat the 'hawks and that starts with exacting a toll on the d men to break-up the breakout. Campbell is sorely missed here. Leddy is improving but he's only 20. Next, teams now know that they can crash the net with impunity because the D are too busy waving their sticks. Third, if those fail, then three across the blue-line and the 'hawks won't dump'n chase. This puck possession game has them chasing the puck rather than playing sound positional man on man hockey. If you have it recorded, go back and watch Tuesday's game against the Preds for a textbook example of sound positional hockey.

    Anyway—before I put everyone to sleep— I see a team who can't figure it out as to how they want to play the game. Against softer opposition they're offensive juggernauts, against well-schooled defensive teams (see Tippet, Hitchcock, Sutter, Trotz) they're easy prey. Against physically imposing teams they disappear for long stretches.

    All of the above, sort of reminds me of the way Q coaches the players and it results in the way the team plays. In and out or up and down the line-up, first line sniper to fourth line grinder, 2nd line center to left winger, back-up goalie to number one goalie, you get the idea … The reason Shaw and Hayes are playing well is because they are what they are and haven't had the chance to be absorbed into Qs methods yet. Given time, I'm sure he'd ruin them too. The way the team plays is is a reflection of the way the team is coached.

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    Wow FF, could not have said it better myself. I really appreciated that read.

  • In reply to Hostile Hawk:

    Thanks, HH, but I probably could have summed it up in one line.

    You can't build a team without all hands on board and the players can't buy into a program/role because the coach doesn't show any faith in them.

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    Geez, great piece of writing FF.

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    On the nose! What is it with Coach Q, is he going to be untouchable? Is Stan going to finally see that all this line jumbling is detrimental and not doing any good? Maybe it's just me, but I don't think Q likes rookies...Hayes and Shaw should stay and progress, Bickell should be gone, gone, gone.

  • BTW,
    A friend of mine started a site recently, and I have been posting here and there on it. You have to check out the reaction over there to what I basically just said above. Here is the link:
    http://www.indianheadnation.com/page/index.html/article/features/puckpowwow/how-simplicity-could-help-the-chicago-blackhawks-r118

  • In reply to Hostile Hawk:

    Interesting read, HH. Very intense discussion with lots of strong opinions. I'll definitely go back and maybe chime in occasionally.

  • Lotta stuff here echos my thoughts. I'll say this though. Two back to back losses against a divisional foe have not changed what is good about this team. Intrinsically, this team has a lot more going for it then other teams in this conference, but we are lot likely to really see that until playoff time. The wings right now are perhaps the best example of what I think a lot of us would like to see, the players fit well together and seem to like each other, and collectively, they buy into what Babcock is preaching. Yet, they got absolutely bitch slapped the other night by the Habs.

    Looking back at my past predictions, it's shocking to admit I haven't always been right and the cup team won despite GLARING gaps some felt that team had. You can't punt the season and expect to win it all in the playoffs, but the Hawks are no where near punting this season. It's easy to read into any one spot and make a broad statement, I do it a lot myself. But the only thing that has really been a consistent issue that has lost this teams games this year has been it's defensive structure. Arguably, the loss of a genuine second pair D man has taken it's toll on this team. At this point, I don't think they need Brian Campbell back, but they need a guy who can step into his old slot, absorb his minutes and help get the puck moving up ice quicker.

    This is something I think SB can do. If he finds that guy, I think a lot of other things will start to take care of themselves.

  • In reply to VegasHawksFan:

    Vegas, yes and no. The team has lost games this year because they weren't ready to play the game. This is a precursor to the breakdowns defensively because when they fall behind the eight ball we all know how Q goes into panic mode and thus the team follows. Not sure what you mean by defensive structure. Do they have one?

    Yes, we all agree with Morrison in the fold now, the need for a 3/4 defender needs to be the number one priority. BMO may not fit the 'hawks well, we don't know that yet, but, at least we'll get an idea in the next month before the trade deadline. He could be the Andrew Ebbott of this year.

    Also, maybe they aren't sure about Toews, whether he can go or not and this could just be insurance. We'll find out Tuesday … if Toews is 100%.

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