Not having internet at home is harder on my life than it should be. Especially when you don't have cable TV. Thankfully, I own a cafe and one of the few rewards of that is having access to said internet and the world.
I mentioned in the last post that the Hawks weren't looking so great, and then they went and lost another game, and in regulation this time. Nope, it hasn't been the best hockey we have seen this year, and I think you can officially say the Hawks have been slumping since the holiday break.
I suppose you could use the break and looming Olympics as justification for a good time to drop the intensity a little, as Iplaguitar mentioned recently in a comment.
One of the few saving graces has been the play of Brandon Saad who has been moved around a bit in what seems to be an attempt to give 2 different lines the benefits of his presence. It is certain that the US team will miss his contributions if he really doesn't play in the Olympics. He can do just about anything, and he does it well, as seen by his movement around the lines while only being a rookie.
Another thing to be happy about was Kruger's presence on the 2nd line against the Rangers. For some reason, Q needed to see Handzus on that line for just a few more shifts before again realizing that he is furthest from the solution to the 2nd line center concerns. Not that he was any worse than usual, but the Hawks continued to have their really bad starts to the game which has been one of the elements of their late December, early January woes. In comes Kruger, and he might have given his best performance of the season in the role. No, his lacking offensive skills weren't exactly pretty, but he was there to make a play, kept up with and got the puck to the right people. While I don't see him as the longtime solution, he proved to be a better option than Zus for now.
Another element that poked its head out as a positive over the past weeks was a couple of strong moments from the goaltending. Raanta's shutout being the highlight, which was exactly what the Hawks needed to pick up a win during this drought. However, while Crawford has had some really strong periods, his performance hasn't been enough to grab a few more points while his team suffers. I hate to say it, but this is just an example of Crawford's abilities. He isn't the goalie that is going to steal a lot of games, and he is only as good as his team.
Bickell's play has been another source of frustration, but that changed against the Rangers. The 3rd line, thanks in part to Saad's return, was the best line for the Hawks. Anyone else missing Stalberg right now, or Frolik for that matter? All to sign Khabi.
Besides bad starts to the game, 2 of the biggest issues for the Hawks lately has been their sloppy mistakes when making or not making passes, and their lack of defensive responsibility. The Rangers for one, took advantage of the tendency for Seabs and Keith to pinch on more than a few occasions, and the usually superb back-check of the Hawks was nowhere in sight.
This whole slump could come down to focus and intensity really.
Back to that 2nd line center thing. In the past, I would have become a little ill at the idea of Kruger in the that role. By most measures, he is not one. However, he has gone from 71st in face-offs within the NHL to 10th, and this used to be one of his biggest concerns. And, while he isn't going to finish many plays for the Hawks, he might not need to when playing with Kane and Saad/Versteeg. He really just needs to provide the defensive positioning he does, get them the puck, and then keep up.
But, one of the problems is now what to do with Zus. He found himself on the 4th line, and while Smith has been playing some smart and hard hockey, Zus really makes that line slow. Smith is not the quickest player, and nor is Bollig. This could be a problem, and maybe even provides a larger reason to bring Morin back, who happens to be the Hawks leading puck-possession player according to the stats this year.
And that's just it. Here we are, scraping at a 2nd line center and looking at a rough 4th line because Q seems to refuse the plethora of young talent in the system in order to play his veteran. If we had spent this half of the season developing the talent, we might be in a better place right now. The result is a team in a slump (no biggy, but still), a 4th line that will not eat up many minutes, which leads to more minutes for the top 2, and they are all in the olympics.
All of this talk could be pointless come next year, as Teuvo Teravainen comes into the mix. He destroyed in the Junior Olympics.
Maybe tonight will present a better picture, and in the end a slump isn't that bad. We don't need the Hawks to finish in first place. We need them to be healthy and reading for another Cup run.
Filed under: View from the Bench