The Hawks lost a point to the Blues, after allowing them to come back from a 2 goal deficit twice. That game displayed some sloppy hockey from the Hawks. Thanks to Raanta's rebound, and his shutout against the Kings, the Hawks won a 1-0 game that didn't exactly present the best Hawks hockey, but it was solid. They came back after falling behind 2 to the Islanders, but lost it in OT. The Hawks allowed the Isles to beat them at their own game for the bulk of that performance. New Jersey was giving the Hawks a run for their money, and only after the allstar Patrick Sharp decided to net another hat-trick was that game decided. Cut to last night where the Hawks dropped the shutout (for the 4th time in a row now) in a game that saw the Sharks direct 42 shots on net. No sir, the Hawks have not looked good for over a week now.
A few of these recent games have been a snooze fest in which the Hawks couldn't get much going. Last night was no different. I blame positioning and passing in large part, although it also looks like the Hawks are a little flat footed. It has caused some shifting in the line-combos by Q, most notably, the consistent demotion of Versteeg, which caused Kane to see 5 different line-mates in a couple games, and Bickell to only register 5 minutes of icetime last night. That last stat becomes a little more concerning when you see that Smith and Bollig only had 8 minutes each. Yep, that leaves Kane to accrue over 22 minutes in a game that ended with a loss and no Kane on the scoring sheet. Remember, the #1 goal should be to keep this team healthy.
If I can recall correctly, Smith had 2 shifts in the 3rd, Bollig had 1, and Bickell sat the whole period out.
The Hawks have only won 4 games that have gone to OT, which is out of a possible 13. What gives with that stat?
What aches me a little bit about the Bickell icetime is that Q pretty much admitted it was in reaction to a goal being scored while Bicks was standing still. Yes, not a good effort by Bicks there, but I have seen Handzus do the same thing numerous times.
There was only 1 penalty in last night's game, and it was to Bollig after trying to get Brown to fight after he made a dangerous hit on Oduya that went without a call. You could argue that the game-tieing goal by Burns shouldn't have counted after the cross-check he laid on Hjalmer to be open for the pass (although that still was a hell of a pass from Thornton). Shaw was blatantly pulled down trying to exit the zone once. Yeah, you could make a case that no-calls hurt the Hawks last night, and that they need a power-play goal to decide games, but that doesn't excuse the weak play for most of the game. Because, otherwise, it was a fairly clean game
(However, I would like to note that Bollig can't even get players to fight him, and that the dangerous hit happened right in front of him. So, does having an "enforcer" really help? And, would Morin be a better option to play?)
So where have the Hawks been going wrong lately? Well, besides a lack of clean passing since the short break, I feel like other teams have been up to the challenge of trying to slow the Hawks entry into the o-zone and then working their butts off to win battles in the corners. This, along with really careful and smart defensive positioning has put out a lot of Blackhawk fires. Part of it is surely the chance to beat the best team in the NHL and how everyone else brings their A-game against them.
The other issue, is that the Hawks haven't exactly matched it. Their allstars have gotten them out of it a few times, or been the difference here and there, but if you just take Sharp's scoring out of the equation, then the Hawks are looking at a really bad run here. IMO, the Hawks defensive positioning has been the achilles heal. I almost pull my hair out watching all of the blown coverage (But, Bickell is the only one who gets sat). Keith's speed and skating ability, along with the efforts of Hjalmer & Oduya's great work, and Seabrook's ability to get the puck out with a good pass have gone above and beyond to mask what otherwise has been really shotty coverage by the Hawks. This has been a big difference. Just look at all of the quality chances their opponents have had against them in recent games.
This is a testament to the performances of the goaltenders, minus Raanta's brainfart against the Blues. And, if you haven't already heard my opinion on the subject, I think Raanta should stay with the Hawks and allow a Crow-Emery situation to blossom again. The competition is good for both of them, and the time off between games will do wonders for Crow. And of course, Raanta earned it.
I want to go back to the Islanders game for a moment.
This game saw a good start by the Hawks, but this start (which we have become used to) hasn't been the case lately. I feel like the Hawks aren't coming out of the gate with as much energy as we are used to. Of course, Bickell was at the hand of a turnover that helped the Hawks to be trailing after that period.
The problem for me was how much the Hawks lost control after that period. The Isles stepped it up, realizing they could win the game, and the Hawks lost all concentration. Again, they are just giving other teams way too much space from bad coverage, positioning, and a lack of battle in the corners. Their opponents, and the Isles did it here, are taking that space away from the Hawks. A ridiculous amount of chemistry from the core that has played together for so long now, and their superior talent has showed up from time-to-time which has kept these games close.
But, even the Toews line has been guilty of blown coverage, which was beyond obvious in the Isles game and is why I wanted to comment on it. What gives? And speaking of Toews, their were rumors that he was injured, and then he scored a few goals silencing it, but have you seen him beat anyone lately? Sure, he still has the upper hand in the corners, but he is even losing some of those battles lately. I remember a Toews that could blow past a defender to create room, and it hasn't been the case lately.
Adding to that thought, Hossa has been subpar for a while now. It might be time for his annual injury to give him the time off he needs. I say it a lot, and will continue to do so, Hossa can't play top line minutes every game of the season. My guess is that Toews has a minor injury that refuses to heal.
The other issue with this game was that Kane's line was choked pretty well all night. This is what brought us to seeing Saad moved into Versteeg's position and then Shaw to replace Zus. Saad shows us that when given the opportunity, he will most likely take it, and he added a little needed jump into that line. But, I feel like Versteeg understood Kane better and placed himself in the flow more efficiently. Switching Shaw for Zus definitely added speed to the movement last night, but again, I don't think anyone understood each other which left Kane looking a little frustrated and without a point. I say stay the course on this one for a bit, and give it some practicing time.
Oh my did Q smirk when being asked if he had wanted to switch Versteeg and Saad for a while now. It would seem there is again, a difference of opinion between he and SB about how Versteeg should be used and Q was just waiting to kick Kris down a tad. Lucky for Kris, Bicks is Q's current whipping boy. Bollig can do no wrong.
Sorry, a lot said here, but I missed a few games.
Last Minute Add:
I just read over at the Committed Indian that Kane has scored 0 times at even strength when Handzus was out with him! ZERO times! Holly tarnations Batman, that can't be true, but apparently it is. It was also mentioned that Shaw's presence at center has had the best results on Kane's scoring, although Pirri has been the center for the most of Kane's even strength goals. The numbers back-up the observations. Enough already.
Also, I forgot to mention that I felt last night was an example of getting out-coached a bit. San Jose was killing it at match-ups, as McLellan had his way with Q. Plus, San Jose seemed to win every important face-off which was followed by a well run play by the Sharks. In fairness, Hjalmer's goal seemed like a run play as well.
That's all, again.
Filed under: Game Recap