Lepisto scores along with five other supporting players to lead the Hawks to a pretty solid 6-1 victory, further proof Q needs to be fired for mismanaging Lepisto's ice time. Course, since I recap less then Lepisto plays, maybe I shouldn't crack wise. Anyway, since I already write way too much when I post, I'm not going to cover every goal. Mason had a major meltdown, which didn't do his team any favors and he compounded it by going to the bench and launching a defiant verbal assault on his coach in front of the entire bench. Without a doubt, the Jackets are a troubled team that any long term Hawks fan should have some empathy for. Still, If Crawford stops the shot that came from Lepisto's give away, this is possibly a 6-0 win and first shut out of the year. It's only two games, but I have seen some things start to happen that I believe are very important that have been missing for a very long time and I'm going to focus on that.
When I saw this team play the Yotes live in Phoenix, I was convinced the skid would hit ten games. Coming off two games in a row where Toews was openly abused by the Avs and Sharks without much response from his team, the game against the Yotes was not much of an improvement. Something changed in the Preds game, which I will get to in a minute, but from that point on the Hawks have been a very different team. We've talked quite a bit on this blog about Q sucking. And then from time to time we talk about other things like the cliched "little things". In the midst of this slump, a lot of blogs mentioned the players were saying the right things and personally, I disagreed. I also heard the phrase "gripping the sticks too tight" and I kind of disagreed with that too. On the ice, the only place that really matters, what I saw night after night were a host of "little things" going on or not going on that I felt broadcast to the entire western conference what this team was about. Namely that it was kinda soft, that it would not stand up for each other, that it would let opposing players stand in it's crease after whistle's to get in the goalies head, that it would stay on the perimeter if physically challenged and worst of all, that it would stand by and do nothing while it's heart and sole captain got abused.
Not a single reader is going to like hearing this, but the bullshit against Toews stopped the minute John Scott was reinserted into this lineup. He has been called worthless, skillless, a wasted roster spot and a host of other things. But he showed again today why no player in the league wants to fight him. He played forward, he played D, and though he made a turnover pass that was as bad as Lepisto's, he did not hurt his team. Late in the game, with the score already 6-1, Kane did something I have not seen him do for most of the year, he drove the net. But it's not just Scott. Early in the game, somebody got in Olsen's face and gave him a high hit. A few shifts later, Hayes stepped up and answered the call. Let's be honest, this team is not going to physically intimidate ANY team in the league. But I would offer this. If you take the abuse card away from the other team, you start to regain the only edge this team has over most, which is its ability to score. Let's not get crazy and call Q a genius to play Scott, but I say let's do stop for a second and ask ourselves why the stretch pass is again having some success.
John Scott aside, I have seen this team FINALLY start to challenge players who fly into the crease after whistles and stand there to play mind games with Crawford and the defense. This is also probably going to start some flames, but I believe Hammer has been one of the worst offenders on this team when it comes to crease mind games and letting other players out position him and whack away at Crawford without a shred of retaliation. Nobody on this team is as fearless at blocking shots as Hammer and he is a legit second pair guy. But I think the arrival of Olsen and his immediate assumption of big ice time over Lepisto lends some credence to the argument our defense is either undersized or undermotivated. Lepisto is not a bad player and I'm happy that the score was lopsided enough to convince Q to get him back in the game and give him a chance to score. But when he is one of six players who are all roughly six foot and 200 lbs or less, I see him as just another guy who wants to be a quick puck mover but is instead negated by a larger forward. I'm not as critical on his turnover today, but I'll wait for comments to say more about that.
The ice time today was very balanced. I wasn't happy to see Keith play 29 minutes the other night, but they had to kill a shitload of penalties. Speaking of that, the power play in the last few games has been much better and though I think the addition of some new players has helped, I see an aggressiveness that was not there previously. The power play, sadly, is still clown shoes. But maybe that will improve. It's safe to say most of this blog wants Q fired. My take is a bit nuanced there, but I find it interesting that with just a little size added here and there, the Hawks suddenly look like a almost entirely different team. Down the stretch, I don't see Scott, Hayes and Olsen as the catalyst that launches a cup bid. Still, I can't help but make the assertion that every "core" forward plays with a bit more edge when they have some confidence they are not going to get their heads removed if they score a goal. Olsen is very young and is going to make mistakes. Still, I felt like he stumbled a bit but got right back into it after Hayes stepped up for him. We know Q won't be fired until at least the summer. In the meantime, can a trade help here? Looking at the outcomes when there has been some size added, I'm inclined to say the Hawks should look for that.
Sorry this is not much of a recap if you didn't see the game. This is the kind of team the Hawks need to beat right now and they did so. All games from here are important, but the next two especially seem like they are games the Hawks must keep very close at a minimum to continue building confidence and plant a seed in the minds of the Blues and Wings that they are still a dangerous team.