The Blackhawks at 35: Conclusion at 38.

The Blackhawks at 35: Conclusion at 38.

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.

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  • HH, you bring up many interesting points. With regards to the players being prepared, there was a good article in the Trib on the 1st which I found interesting. It talked about the Oilers game which the Hawks were smoked 9-2, and how that game woke the team up. Since that game, the Hawks have gone 12-4-1, outscored opponents 54-40, and have taken 25 out of a possible 34 points.

    There was a quote from Patrick Sharp who said, "We've put that (game) behind us and committed to the team system that Joel wants us to play, and we've been better off for it," Sharp said. "Sometimes a game like that can be good for a team. It's hard to find a positive off that one but …"

    I find it interesting that he says it took that game to commit to the "team system" that Q wanted them to play. Was there a problem with the new players buying into Q's system? I don't think Sharpie would be talking about the players we have had here because I don't think Q has changed his basic philosophies. It is an interesting quote, and points to some issues with people doing what they are supposed to be doing. Sounds to me as there were players who wanted to play for themselves instead of as a team.

    As far as the revolving door for the 6th man, this could be a sign of a trade down the road. It doesn't look like the answer is on our roster, and it isn't in Rockford either. These guys have had every opportunity to prove themselves and they haven't done so.

    Q has always been a coach who believes in changing the line combos daily. As far as the lenient practices go, could this be the reason that the Hawks have been as healthy as they have been? Not too many games have been lost due to injuries. The Hawks have been fortunate so far, and it could be a huge factor come playoff time.

    The nice thing about having such talented players on this roster is that Q can experiment with the lines until he finds a combination that works. The Hawks have the talent to work through it. Some experiments leave us scratching our heads, while others make him look smart as hell.

    I think our answers will come in the way of a trade or two. We do have some good, young prospects in Rockford. They have potential, but I don't believe they can help the Hawks this year. We may have help up front if we can sneak Olesz through the waivers, but a D-man will have to come from elsewhere. I believe Brian Connelly's contract is up after this year, and I don't see him ever moving up to the Hawks. He is a small, puck-moving D-man (4g-25a in 33 games). He finished 6th in the AHL last year among D-men with 52 points, and was named the Icehogs top D-man. He doesn't bring much around our net though (-8 on the year). I think he would probably be a good bet to be offered in a trade.

  • In reply to BigJack:

    Wow, all of your points are huge here. The Sharp quote and comment on staying healthy really has me thinking.

    That also tells me that Q is very aware of how much an injury could change everything. Still, over playing his core is another way to get them injured. If he can get the 3rd line rolling, he could avoid this down the road a bit. Maybe, his leniency in practice is due to his reliance on them during games. A sort of balancing act if you will. But, it still gives weight to why they fall out of position so easily.

  • I've had a change in outlook on Q this year. When I've though about reasons why I have thought he should be fired, I've also tried to consider who or what I would like to see him replaced with. Would I want to see Hitchcock here? Sutter? No. I love the idea that there is a coach out there who will come in and overnight convert this team into some 60 minute powerhouse that never loses a board battle, never lets people camp in the crease, plays strong in all three zones, plays physical, etc etc. However, I don't think there is any coach out there who could come in a make all that happen. Even the Wings these days are looking like the team that doesn't play a full game but comes back in the third to steal it. It's not ideal, but it's probably not going to change.

    I didn't think the Hawks were very good last year, but if Bolland comes back one game earlier you possibly have a different outcome in the first round, and that was on a team with a lot of spare parts. The Hawks drafted very well and were very luck to have drawn Kane and were also very shrewd in some of their trades. I hate to keep saying it, but they are built to win with talent. On the margins, they will need to outwork teams here and there to win, but on most nights, what the top four forwards and top four D do are going to determine the fate of the team.

    More then anything, I really believe the future of the team is in the hands of Toews and SB. Coaches may come and go, but Toews will be a fixture. If he continues to mature and inflict his will on his teammates, good things are likely to follow. As for SB, he will continue to need to be plugged into players coming available to fill in his rental player spots. Last year he had few options. This year I like what he did but some players just haven't worked out. In the big picture though, he left himself some solid flexibility with cap space. What Toews and SB do between now and the playoffs is probably going to have a lot more impact then what Q does.

  • In reply to VegasHawksFan:

    I hear you Vegas. My worry is that this team will win like this all the way through the season and even deep into the playoffs, until they face a team like Boston, or even a Western team before that.

    Philly will be a good measuring stick on Thursday.

  • In reply to VegasHawksFan:

    Agreed on just about all you mention, Vegas. The team is built to win in the regular season. The playoffs, however will be another story.

    The team though, is overly reliant on the core. It's the bottom six and last D pairing that needs to have a better role defined for them. Q treats them as plug'n play time-wasters in order to give his stars a breather. I believe playing more often as a unit, defining their roles, and giving them meaningful minutes will boost confidence, boost scoring and result in improved defensive play overall. Injuries aside, you can't continue to treat Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Kane, Keith and Seabrook like they're wind-up dolls that keep going and going. They're going to tire. There needs to be more secondary scoring and—if the roster is going to remain this way then some continuity and minutes from game to game is a way to build the confidence of these "role" players.

    You are bang on about SB. Of the six FA signings last summer only Mayers and Carcillo have performed to expectations. Brunette and Montador have been average at best and O'Donnell, meh. Lepisto is an unknown at this point. You get what you pay for and I've said before there's a difference in what you get for 500k, 1M, and 1.5 M. He has money to burn this year and once the sellers become picks and prospects buyers at TDL he'll be under some pressure, I think, to put this team over the top. Hopefully he has better judgment on the talent pool this time around. I doubt very much if any of the call-ups will stick, barring injuries. They're just not ready yet.

  • It's hard to bitch and moan about the number one team in the NHL at this point in the season. After the same amount of games last year (20-15-3) this year's +14 in wins over losses is a great improvement. The 'hawks have had a much better schedule this year and are in the midst of an extended homestand (if you will) with only 3 more road games before they head out on the 9 game road trip at the end of the month.

    Sure, every team has its ups and downs through the course of season and we've seen the best of both ends of that stick this year. This leads me to the biggest issue I have with the team as presently constituted. Imagine how good this team would be if contributions were had from all four lines and if the D were helping out on offense regularly—or even on a slightly consistent basis. Wow!

    This, however, might require some continuity in the line combinations and D pairings but we all know that this is not Q's MO. To me—as I've mentioned many times—the ability to roll four lines makes a world of difference in how this team plays, More ice for the 3rd and 4th lines equals more opportunity to contribute thus more opportunity for a better "team" game. Too many times this year we've seen less than 60 minute efforts resulting in (perhaps) undeserved victories simply because the "core" has been on fire, or Toews has "willed" the team to win. This, for me is not a recipe for long-term success. The constant line juggling and the extreme reliance on the core players breeds that "individual play" that Sharp (Jack) alludes to above. I guess I need to get over it though as it will not change with Q at the helm.

    A month ago, I thought the 'hawks record was mostly a mirage given their Jekyll and Hyde play. I'm cautiously optimistic moving forward as I still feel there are several areas for improvement, most notably lack of preparedness to start games, and better production from the bottom half of the roster which comes with more familiarity with your linemates, understanding your role, and actually getting some ice time. You can read between the lines here …

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    You and I are pretty much on the same page.

    If all we have come to understand is true, then Line juggling is the largest factor standing in the way of this team being elite.

  • A couple of things I've seen suggest Lepisto is in today.

  • In reply to VegasHawksFan:

    Yay! Watch for his aggressiveness. I find it his best attribute in the limited times I have seen him.

    I will be at the game tonight, so it will give me a better perspective on how he moves about the ice.

  • In reply to Hostile Hawk:

    Watch for him to make untimely pinches which result in odd man rushes. His game seems fine otherwise. The change of possession game is where he suffers and gets caught out of position based on what I've seen so far.

  • Edit to my own post above.

    We don't discuss the Special teams all that much here.
    Compare the 'hawks PP 18.6 plus PK 79.2 equals 97.8 to the Canucks
    24.2 + 85.7=109.7, the Bruins at 18.9 + 88=106.9, or the Pens at 19.8 + 87.6 = 107.4. If we get those numbers up many of these close games are not that close and possibly several more wins. A long way to go on special teams.

    Enjoy the game HH.

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    Ha.
    Perfect subject to bring up right before this horrible excuse for a game. Special teams blew it big time. Q relied too heavily on his big guns who weren't up for the show, and then became tired and frustrated when the going got tough. Hayes had about 3 minutes of play by the time he scored, and then Q decided to see what else he could do. Lepisto had 5 minutes of ice, which happens to be less than Scott. Just when I was starting to think about giving Q some respect.

    But, yeah, special teams is an area I should have covered in my review of the season so far.

  • In reply to Hostile Hawk:

    That was the worst they have played since the last time the Oilers were on the slate. Pathetic is a word that comes to mind. This home stand is starting to go stale on the boys I think. Renney clearly knows how to beat Q. Going back to last year the Oil have given Chicago all they can handle.

    No effort equals no win and it was one of those games where they were beaten at all the battles. They absolutely refuse to chip and chase and muck it up in the corners. The Oilers got pucks deep and won the battles.

    Vegas, this is what skill and no brawn gets you… perimeter play. This team gets too full of itself at times and figure they just need to show up in order to win.

    Crawford was at his flailing best once again and I'm ready for Ray Emery to start against Phillie.

    Is this really a "team" or simply a collection of skilled individuals?

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