For the first time this season all of the untouchable seven will be in the lineup together for the Blackhawks. Because of injuries it has taken until game 19 for Bolland, Hossa, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Sharp and Toews to be reunited. Although having everyone healthy won’t guarantee success it has been a rough ride without the entire core.
As has been the case for this season, the Hawks will continue throughout the month of November playing on an every other day pace. This time the schedule will feature seven road games, with only two to contests to be played at the United Center. The Circus road trip is coming soon and the Hawks have already squandered opportunities to accumulate points on home ice.
Although it is only the second month of the season the next four games are huge for the Blackhawks.
None of the upcoming opponents, the Predators, Ducks, Oilers and Flames are to be taken lightly. But only Anaheim is currently playing very good hockey. The Ducks have won seven of their last 10 and have only lost once in regulation on home ice. The remaining games in November should all be very difficult. To conclude the month the Hawks will face the Canucks, Sharks, Ducks, Kings all on the road, and then finally the Blues at the UC.
The Hawks conducted their quarterly meetings the other day, a bit early but that was probably wise. Joel Quennville’s recent comments indicate he is looking for more balance throughout the lineup. Coach Q. also mentioned some of the leadership responsibilities should be distributed amongst a few players.
When things aren’t going well Jonathan Toews probably isn’t too pleasant to be around. The fire always burns hot in the young captain and he probably puts too much pressure on himself, especially when the team isn’t meeting expectations. As a group, the Hawks are physically and mentally tired, and the schedule doesn’t loosen up for awhile. So everyone has to dig deep within.
The next group of games could be the final audition for some young players. Possibly, Stan Bowman will have to go out and acquire another veteran or two but cap space contraints will be an issue. For now the Hawks have a team in place which will have to find a way to win consistently.
The finger shouldn’t be pointed at the young guys still learning. But someone among the bottom six forwards would be most likely to be moved if changes were to be made.
I wonder if Rocky Wirtz really accepts the hand the schedule makers have dealt the Blackhawks?
Between last year and this season no team will play more back-to-back games than the Hawks. If Wirtz has the ability to open up more dates at the United Center he has to do it.
This weekend the Hawks will play on consecutive nights for the fifth time in six weeks. Chicago will still have 13 back-to-back games left. The schedule can’t be used as an excuse for the inconsistent performances but this has been a brutal pace. The heavy workload so early in the year hasn’t helped a group which needs time to hit its stride.
Unfortunately there isn’t as much time to turn things around as it seems. If the rest of the November is as bad as the first part of the season the Hawks will have to dig out of a big hole in an effort to gain a post season birth.
Looking for balance….
Here are the lines which were used at practice on Friday.
My take is Quenneville was looking to instill more defensive responsibility in a couple of players. He also wants to even out the workload for his beleaguered group. Coach Q. will be closely watching which younger players best seize the opportunity.
By pairing Sharp with Toews and Brouwer a message has been sent to the Hawk sniper. Sharp will have to be more engaged in playing along the boards.
Sharp is smart enough to seize an offensive opportunity but his defensive play has suffered in the last few weeks. By playing Sharp at wing, Quenneville is probably hoping he can find an effective game in all three zones.
Putting Bolland in as the second line center is rather curious…But why not? The Hawks have been anything but a model of consistency.
Bolland is a gritty winner who can play in all three zones. I’m just hoping his ribs were the only cause of his physical problems and his back wasn’t also an issue. If healthy, Bolland can shore up the defense.
Hossa playing with Kane could be interesting to watch especially because the game is played with only one puck. One thing Hossa usually does consistently well is back check. Of late, Kane hasn’t been terrible but like other Hawks he has to play both sides of the puck equally as well.
No matter what the combinations turn out to be the Hawks won’t improve unless they make a commitment to go the net. There are reasons this team has played so poorly in five on five situations.
There is no better time to put fancy play aside and look to simply get pucks on net to create scoring chances. The Hawks have not been able to pot rebounds on a regular basis and that also has to change.
The bottom six forward could be the key for the Hawks success as they should be dialed into playing a more simple game. The biggest issue for Quenneville concerning the third and fourth lines might be if they are defensively responsible. If they can be trusted, the bottom six forwards could see more ice time.
Simply put the top six forwards could get about 20 minutes each of playing time. Quenneville could look to distribute the rest of the ice time equally among the third and fourth lines. He could also look to play the more effective group for around 14 minutes and the other line for 8-10 minutes.
In either case Quenneville has options and has given some younger players a chance to prove they belong. It is difficult to have a strong opinion as to a designated third or fourth line.
Of the bottom six forwards, the veteran Pisani has been the most consistent. Stalberg has shown the most offensive potential and Dowell has been reliable in all three zones. But nothing is set in stone for this group.
Keith and Seabrook will be split up tonight once again. Although Keith was benched for a few shifts against the Coyotes, the ice time was equally distributed among the top four defenders. At least more so than has been the case in the past.
Most likely Keith will play at least 24-26 minutes tonight, if he performs better. But the goal appears to be to spread out the ice time more evenly. As long as Boynton and Cullimore/Hendry can continue to chip in with around 14 minutes of playing time some pressure can be taken off of the top four.
Tonight the Hawks face a team which always gives them trouble. Nashville has cooled off of late, but records don’t matter when these two hook up.
Marty Turco will be back in net and hopefully his strong play continues. Recently Pekka Rinne hasn’t been very good, surrendering 18 goals in the last five games. No mater who is in net for the Predators, Turco needs to be better for the Hawks to win.
The Hawks won’t have an easy time in Nashville but the Predators are vulnerable. They have some key injuries and have played about as inconsistently as the Hawks. Tonight won’t be easy but tomorrow’s game against the red hot Ducks will be just as difficult if not more so.
On Sunday night the Hawks will have to deal with another back-to-back game and the pressure is mounting to win on home ice. The big Duck forwards usually give the Hawks problems.
That brings up another area of concern for Quenneville. The defense has allowed opposing forwards to bother Turco way too often. Most likely Crawford will get the start on Sunday, but the same holds true. The Hawk defensemen have to box out the forwards and play more physical.
One could point to injuries and a difficult schedule as reasons for the sluggish start. Excuses, reasons or whatever else aside, there is no better time to start winning than this weekend.
About the Author: