Bounce Back Or Get Bounced Out

On Saturday evening in front of a large TV audience and over 22,000 in attendance the Blackhawks came up empty against the Canucks. It was proof once again displaying confidence is much different than talking about it.

The Hawks were completely defeated and now will search for reasons and try to bounce back in Game 2. The Canucks are one of the NHL’s elite and the Blackhawks made them look unbeatable.

If Chicago’s performance doesn’t make a 180 degree turn Vancouver could be on their way to series sweep. When interviewed Blackhawk players constantly mention they are a confident group.

If there was ever a time there self assuredness could be in question it would be now.

There is a big difference between the Vancouver Canucks and the Nashville Predators.

The Predators compete and win because of guile and determination more so than having an abundance of talent.  Vancouver is a much more skilful group which when focused is a legitimate threat to win the Stanley Cup.

The Blackhawks are somewhat of enigma these days.

Chicago has talent and in many ways puts on one of the best shows in the NHL. They don’t score as many highlight reel goals as other clubs but the Hawks have had more than their share of dramatic comebacks. Seldom do they stay down for long but these days there aren’t many second chances.

That is where the confusion lies.

At times the Hawks have shown the willingness to accept adversity and battle back. But often in this year’s post season they don’t consistently exhibit the necessary push back when trouble arises.

One thing has proven true over the last few years, it is best not to sell this group short. They have accomplished a lot in a short period of time but now  they face a huge challenge.

There is no need to get all inside hockey about why the Blackhawks were trounced on home ice by the Canucks. In essence the Hawks didn’t have the appropriate response to the Vancouver challenge. To say there were some bright spots in the Hawks performance is an overstatement.

Roberto Luongo was very good and Antti Niemi wasn’t, but don’t boil down the 5-1 loss into which goal keeper was better.  

In the closing seconds of the opening frame Niemi played a harmless off target shot by Ryan Kesler into a juicy rebound. The result was a Mason Raymond goal and 2-0 Vancouver lead.

Niemi looked shaky afterward and probably should have been pulled at the start of the second period when the Canucks tallied to make it a 3-0 contest. The young Finn would have had to pitch a shutout for the Hawks to have a chance to win over the weekend. Realistically that is too much to ask.

Luongo had a strong performance but the Blackhawks had 13 missed shots and many squandered opportunities. A combination of poor passing, missing the net and probably squeezing their sticks too tight contributed to the Hawks dismal offensive performance.

Defensively Chicago was no better.

The blueliners turned the puck over far too often as did the forwards. The Hawks were outworked along the boards. 

If you are looking for positives the Hawks won 55 % of the faceoffs and that will take care of the bright spots for Chicago.

The Hawks did outshoot the Canucks, probably because they were trailing for almost the entire game. Vancouver only fired three shots at Cristobal Huet in the third period.

Those who want to put a lot of emphases on hits being a proxy for toughness, think again.

The team without the puck does most of the hitting.  A puck possession club like the Hawks will often get outhit because they are controlling the play.

A better measurement of toughness is the team which wins the puck battles and in Game 1 it was the Canucks.

On Saturday the Blackhawks chased the fleet Canuck forwards for much of the game. Chicago outhit Vancouver 37-27 mainly because the Canucks were the team with the puck. This was apparent in all three zones, and certainly now the Hawk defenders realize the speed and skill of every Canuck line.

Chicago and Vancouver are different teams than last year.

The Canucks have made some nice additions and are a better club than when they last faced the Hawks in the playoffs.

The changes in Chicago are striking.

Compared to last spring the Blackhawks used four completely different lines in Game 1.  Also every defensive pairing except one has changed, as well as the goal keeper.

Joel Quenneville will have to find the best combinations but maybe he has too many choices….

Alain Vigneault is keeping his game plan simple.

The Canucks bench boss couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

He received big contributions from his bottom six forwards as they outplayed their Chicago counterparts. In my view the play of the third and fourth lines should have been a Blackhawk advantage. But the opposite was true in the series opener.

Vigneault is very comfortable in matching his top two lines against Chicago’s best. If Game 1 results were any indication he should feel very confident.

Most likely if the Hawks don’t turn things around in a big way on Monday it will be a short series. Although with a win they can climb back into their playoff battle and hope for Chicago fans will be alive.

If Vancouver goes up 0-2, the Blackhawk Stanley Cup Express might be knocked off the track.

Maybe it was going too fast anyway.

Al’s Shots 

Here is a brief individual series opener performance review….

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook…

Both have not played as consistently well as they did in the first half of the season. Seabrook in particular had an off night in Game 1. Maybe the strain of a long season and many hard minutes are surfacing.

The best thing about the Chicago loss might have been Keith and Seabrook played less than 23 minutes…maybe that will pay dividends in Game 2.

Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Sopel…

Sopel had his worse game of the playoffs by far. Hammer wasn’t himself either but his partner certainly didn’t help matters.

Brian Campbell and Jordan Hendry…

Campbell may have rushed back and is avoiding contact more than usual. He is playing like one big hit could knock him out of action.

Hendry looked like a rusty player.

Niemi shouldn’t worry about trying to outplay Luongo but he can’t give goals away.

His rebound control wasn’t good and he made his job more difficult.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Marian Hossa had three hits but no shots.

Dave Bolland in the offensive zone isn’t close to the same player he was last season at this time.

John Madden had two wins and seven losses at the faceoff dot.

Patrick Kane is trying to do too much…the blue line turnovers will have to stop.

Kane on the power play…

He has become too predictable and will have switch things up. Kane should take some shots while moving away from the half boards.

I know in Juniors, a long time ago Bryan Bickell scored goals.

A long time ago I had a 30 inch waist….

I’m not sure why Troy Brouwer fell out of favor but it’s time to get him up to the first line.

If Quenneville isn’t going to put a proven goal scorer with Kane and Jonathan Toews, maybe Dustin Byfuglien should be the next choice.

Will Adam Burish get to dress for Game 2?

Maybe…But who will sit?

Byfuglien had six hits but played less than 11 minutes. He was also credited with only one shot.

Maybe Buff goes back on defense and plays power play minutes up front…And Hendry sits out???

The Canadiens somehow came back to win Game 2 on the road against the Cup champs to avoid going down 0-2.

The Hawks had a team meeting on Sunday to sort things out.

If they want to have a good chance at winning this series they will have to find a way to win tonight.

blackhawkswin@comcast.net

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  1. Michael says:

    Brouwer on the first line? Al, I have never disagreed with you more. Brouwer has been awful in these playoffs. He has done absolutely nothing offensively, and worse, he has done nothing from a phyiscal standpoint either. I don’t believe he was credited with a single hit in game 1 against the Canucks. The only time I noticed him in the Nashville series was in game 1 when he had that brutal turnover that ended up being the game winner for the Preds. What irritated me about that play was that it was bad enough that he gave the puck up, but then he looked to the heavens because he knew he screwed up instead of skating back hard to try to break up any rebounds attempt should Niemi make the initial save, which he did. If Brouwer had hustled back, maybe he prevents Hornqvist from scoring. He also took a stupid penalty for roughing Hamhuis in game 4 when the Hawks had a 3 goal lead. Nothing like taking a stupid penalty and risk giving a team life when you have the game under control. I admit the guy has shown flashes of offensive and physical talent throughout the season, but it has been very inconsistent at best. Again, he has been a passenger for seven playoff games now. The only spot I want to see him tonight is in the press box. Perhaps a game up there will knock the laziness out of his game. If his mind is not right due to his Dad’s recent illness, then he should be sat because he is not contributing in any way to the team’s effort.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      Michael,

      You points are well taken.

      But the Hawks are playing short two top six forwards when you consider Bickell and Kopecky. I like the way Kopecky has been playing but… Is he a legit top 6 guy on a Cup contender….

      Bickell is a fine player but he hasn’t scored in the AHL…if Q. is looking for offense Brouwer should be used… he scored in the AHL and was fine here until the last month or so.

      You will see a change there tonight…maybe Ladd maybe Burish…my choice would be Brouwer.

      • Michael says:

        AL,

        Now I will agree with you as far as Kopecky. He has played fairly well, but don’t see him as a top six forward. I kind of like Bickell. He has a good shot, and thought he played well in Nashville, but does seem to have leveled off some. The big problem, as you alluded to, is that Bolland has just not been the same player he was last year and hasn’t really developed any chemistry with Kane, Sharp or Hossa. This team desperately needs to find a playmaking #2 center for next season.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      Actually in a perfect world Kane and Sharp should be together…but Bolland hasn’t clicked with Hossa.

  2. Ken says:

    Al,

    At least the game was over in time to swith over and catch Angles and Demons on a movie chanel. When Sopel lost that battle on the boards and they scored, it was game over in my opinion.

    My candidate to sit would be Versteeg – AKA Mr. Invisible in these playoffs.

    I thought we had a good start to the game and kept up the offensive pressure – which did lead to some PP opportunities – but our PP let us down yet again.

    Again, I have to question coach Q and his ability to get it done in the post season. Losing the first game in the last 4 playoff series – 2 of those at home – makes me question his post season abilities.

    Hopefully, we head back to Vancouver with the series tied.

  3. Dave Morris says:

    Al, as you say, some people may be selling the Hawks short after this loss.

    They were trounced in Vancouver by the same 5-1 score back in January in a game that was surprisingly similar.

    They came back in Chicago and whipped the Canucks 6-3 in the next meeting, that being in March.

    This year’s playoffs have been full of unexpected results.

    The Hawks looked sluggish against the Predators but they still managed to win the series in six games.

    And is there a more puzzling example of a team that goes from cold to hot than the Canadiens? They go down 1-3 against the Caps and come back to take the series; then they look like roadkill in their first game against the Pens only to strangle Pittsburgh winning 3-1 at the Mellon Arena.

    So…who knows?

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      Dave,

      You can’t sell them short but they have to improve a great deal tonight.

  4. Michael says:

    Al,

    Any chance Beach would dress and maybe be given a few shifts to see if he provides some energy and physical play? Not saying he is the answer to our problems, but would be interested to see what he could provide and his play could dictate the minutes he gets from Q. How about a first line of Buff, Towes and Hossa and a second line of Kane, Burish and Sharp. I know Burish is a stretch at #2, but he gives you energy and hustle and thought he actually had a good game or two when he played with Kane in the regular season (maybe as a wing when Brouwer was out attending to his Dad?) Or maybe bump up Versteeg to the top line with Towes and Hossa and see if it jump starts his offense. Hard to believe the Hawks have all these forwards yet can’t settle on any combination that is really clicking.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      Really no shot at Beach playing unless there was an epidemic.

      You might see the two lines u described if Burish is the choice.

      Kane and Sharp have chemistry…and Hossa might do well with Toews.

      But I think Buff will probably play 3rd pairing on defense and then see PP time.

  5. Michael says:

    What really is concerning me is that the Hawks seem to be doing an awful lot of talking after the last game while the Canucks have been basically silent. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to give the Canucks any more fodder than they already have to beat you by saying, “It wasn’t them, it was us” or “Our wounds were self-inflicted” and “we gave them their offense.” Why not just shut up, stop trying to be a quote machine and go out and perform on the ice. This team seems to have more energy in giving excuses than getting the job done on the ice. I hope I am wrong, but I’ve got a bad vibe going into this game. If the Canucks get up early, frustration will surely start to set in, undiscipline penalties will follow and this can get really, really ugly.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      I was more surprised to hear some of Q.’s comments……But…

      How many times do players have to keep saying they are a confident team??

  6. Michael says:

    Q’s comments remind me of last year against Detroit when he made the infamous, “that was probably the worst call in the history of hockey” remark. It smacked of frustration then and I think his comments the other day had a little frustration in them as well. I’m wondering if he isn’t starting to feel a little pressure in that this team has not played a solid 60 minute hockey game in these playoffs with the exception of game 4 in Nashville. Add the expectations for this team from fans and hockey experts and I’m wondering if he senses that anything other than at least making it to the conference finals again will be a huge disappointment and a lot of criticism (warranted or not) will be coming his way. Maybe a little deja vu in that he was unable to get his teams in St. Louis and Colorado to the finals.

  7. HawkFanDave says:

    I was shocked by the Hawks complete lack of response. They almost seemed comatose. Seabrook getting knocked backward on a hit, then getting outmuscled in the crease. A boarding penalty on Vancouver… who was the Canuck who nailed Toews?… and not one of the Hawks even got into his face. He nailed your captain, for God’s sake. You don’t have to challenge him to a fight or even touch him. Just act like you have a pulse.

    • Dave Morris says:

      HawkFanDave> you are touching on an aspect of the Blackhawks that Al and I have discussed on a number of occasions…the question of whether the Hawks have enough guys who play with an ‘edge’.

      Skill is all well and good, but when the playoffs come around, the game gets nasty in more ways than one.

      TSN’s Bob McKenzie commented recently that he believes the Hawks “don’t want to play a gritty game”. Whether or not you agree with McKenzie, it is true that we’ve seen more than a few occasions where the Blackhawks don’t seem to use a controlled aggression against their opponents.

      Add to that, the intangible that the Canucks have working for them. They were humiliated last year by the Hawks, and they’ve been working and playing and planning with one thing in mind.

      That is, beating Chicago this year. And that motivation can be an extremely powerful factor.

      I pointed out in my pre-series overview that the margin in terms of talent between these two teams is very narrow. Link here:

      http://hockeyindependent.com/blog/david-morris/15334/

      Al emphasized that point in his blogs as well.

      Whoever *wants* this series more, is going to win.

  8. Dave Morris says:

    Hawks wanted it more last night, and a nice bounce back by Niemi and Versteeg…among others.

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