I left the "Blackhawks at 35" post with the 2 major points surrounding Consistency and Preparedness. Both are part of the bigger picture themes involving reasons for concern over the seemingly picture perfect first-half of the season. It was mentioned in this post that the Hawks are on the top looking down, which is a wonderful place to be. Do I see the situation in the standings coming to a radical change? No. On the bigger picture of standings, I really only see a slight change in what the top 8 will look like by season's end.
Not that it matters to the Hawks situation, but I foresee Dallas dropping out of contention, and that the Sharks will move into a top 5 spot from their current location of 10th. The 8th spot will most likely be a toss-up between The Preds, Wild, and Yotes. My money will be riding with the Preds.
Still, getting back to the Hawks, we see reasonable doubt to their position. The argument has been made again and again that having 4 elite players on the top 2 lines creates enough energy to sneak in wins when maybe the full 60 said otherwise. I made reference to Toews as being maybe the most influential player in the league. His personal season has had a tremendous impact on the team, which you can also read about in other posts here, such as the "A Good Hockey Player Plays Where the Puck is..." post, and the "What does the play of Toews say about the Hawks" post. He is leading the league in my opinion, and not just in goals, but having his goals count for something when they are scored.
I mentioned the 3rd line as a concern. To which Stalberg seemed to be providing some positive change in recent games. But, as we all saw in the Detroit game, Q quickly made a change to that scenario. Does this situation not play into the larger Consistency concerns? More on this in a moment.
The post also referenced some defensive holes. With the Hawks scoring providing the area of least concern, their ability to keep pucks out of their own net happens to provide the area of biggest concern. In this theme of conversation, I pointed to a lack of cohesion between the D-men and forwards. This bridge is actually where I see the need for the most attention, and makes it seem like Campbell might have been the glue that held these 2 systems together. I feel their is truth here, but also point again to a lack of consistency, and an even greater lack of Preparedness.
The lack of cohesion, consistency and knowing of roles for the forwards might just be causing the D to feel the results. Making constant changes to the line combos has caused the forwards to find themselves out of position in a plethora of instances. In fact, most goals against can be attributed to just that. This positioning failure has also caused some break-out issues at times. No center or winger where they should be keeps the D without options for puck movement. Furthermore, the constant revolving 6th D-man has added insult to injury. It might be that Lepisto is not the answer to all of the defensive issues, but is he not the best option at the moment.
Being prepared for a game means having the right players in the right spots and making the best of practices to ensure optimal performance. I have read a few articles that highlight Q's lenient practice policies and others that mention key players missing them. The fact is that this season has felt something like an experiment, which is somewhat how any season for any team should feel, but not to this extent. The question comes to whether or not other teams are more prepared for the game or not.
We have defensively all seen reason to question Hjalmer's performance. Most of that directed at his inability to cover the slot on occasion and protect his home. Is this not one of the largest concerns for the Hawks defense anyway? So why does it proceed? Are the right things being preached in practice, and are the right plays getting worked with the right players in the right place?
The Wings and even Kings game showcased an improvement in many of these issues. 1st off, they both seemed to present something closer to a full-60 performance by our beloved Hawks. The Hawks also brought a slightly more physical game and had a tighter defense on a whole. Conversely, The games also highlighted a lack of Consistency and Preparedness in some ways. Such as: giving up the first goal, missing protection in the slot, and huge changes in line combos.
The change in lines seemed to completely ignore another largely talked about concern, that the team is top heavy. The 3rd and 4th lines of the Hawks need to be in a place to eat up some minutes if the Hawks are to go deep into the playoffs. It will allow for a healthier core, and make for a well rounded machine.
It would seem as though some of my rants are actually coming into a well understood argument and hopeful scenario for the future. The first part of this post ended with some very informative comments from you guys, so I thought they should be discussed.
- Big Jack pointed at such things as how Bickell is just not making the grade, but followed with remarks about how well Carcillo and Mayers are doing. He referred to the system as being the possible place to find bandaids. Is Olesz the answer? I sure as heck think that he will do better than Bickell. I mean, did we even really give Olesz the space to find his groove? Or, as Big Jack mentioned, is it another one of the promising prospects such as, Saad, Shaw, Hayes, Morin, or Pirri? With regards to the 6th D-man, he pointed to the loss of Campbell as proving more hurtful than anticipated.
I would have liked to have seen more of Olesz personally. But I did see Pirri as a possible fix to some of the Hawks woes. Seeing him execute his position so well in his short time recently had me assuming he would just get better, and rationalizing how his presence might help out the D's concerns. He played the center's role like a center who is the 3rd defenseman in hockey. Sending him down just served as more fuel to my arguments against Q, and added to my concerns with consistency and preparedness.
The changes made going into the Detroit game were complete head scratchers. Stalberg was providing a lift to the 3rd line, allowing them to improve in ways we already know is needed, and Pirri was doing what I just stated. The upside was getting to see Hayes, but I would argue he still could have played with Pirri in the mix. The result was a complete change in the forward combos, but also a shining light in Hayes. It would seem as Big Jack pointed to, Hayes could be the solution to our Bickell agenda.
- Vegas commented on how Montador is finally finding his role on the team and how that helps everything work better. He also pointed to Leddy's improvement and how that starts to negate the Campbell argument, and is allowing Hjalmer to find his groove. He also pointed to Olesz as an upgrade to Bickell, but that was before watching Hayes play. He pretty much summed it up when he stated, "there will never be a system under Q" and I couldn't agree more. Does this however mean we can't have some consistency?
- FourFeather chimed in on how big the upcoming games were. The Kings, Wings, and soon to be Flyers games hold a lot of weight in the larger scheme of things. His largest statement would have to be that "this is a 20 minute performance team." He also gave weight to the need for Q to roll 4 lines. Finally, he gave Stalberg props for actually having an upside. The fact that Stalberg has performed well is enough to give the Hawks a few extra points in the standings. The difference between 1st and 5th place right now IMO.
Again, the Kings and Wings games provided more balanced efforts. The presence of Scott however, destroys any chance of rolling 4 lines effectively, especially with the 3rd line in purgatory. And, as mentioned, the total switch-up before the Wings game hindered some of those gains. Even Toews needs consistency, as noted by the switch to Brunette after getting used to Stalberg. There was a most obvious stunt in both he and Kanes' game after that. This was soon to be followed by moving Kane to center again. Toews and Hossa is a no brainer in terms of production, but is it best for the team?
So, in the end of all this ranting, is there a silver lining? I again will choose to side-step talking about goaltending. No, it hasn't been spectacular, but I just don't see it as a reason for freaking out either. Crawford came back with some huge efforts in recent games. If it continues then it provides the Hawks with 2 strong goaltenders at the moment, which gives Q options. Most likely not good for Q to have more options. I suppose that the silver lining is that the Hawks are at the top. They have issues, but who doesn't and at least we seem to have a handle on what needs to be fixed.
We do know a few important things. We need net crashers up front, and we need better protection of our net on the other side. Is the solution to this in a trade, or in Rockford? My guess, a little of both happens. If the trade is there, and you know what pieces you need now, why not make it happen. As stated a few times around the internet, the Hawks have some shining prospects to make deals look better. I could ask for some improvement on the consistency and preparedness worries, but I doubt seeing that ever settle down under Q's watch.
And so, I look to the 2nd half with excitement and curiosity, but mostly high expectations. Let me call this review halfway through a done deal. And, thanks for reading.