As the year comes to an end memories come to my mind. Five years ago, when I began to blog, the Hawks were following the same script as they did for years. Players better suited to play on third line were jammed into top line spots, and others on the roster always seemed to be overmatched.
Basically players were not put in a position to succeed and more often than not the team wasn’t successful. Almost always it was not a case of players not providing effort. Mostly the wrong type of effort came about because players were asked to perform beyond their capabilities. It became difficult to watch because the outcome was so predictable and the losses continued to mount.
Years ago many of my blogs included questions. There was so much uncertainty because the picture was always cloudy. The questions needed to be asked but the correct answers were not always obvious.
After the recent injuries and this summer’s salary cap purge the Blackhawks haven’t come full circle but there are some disturbing similarities.
Let’s start with a few questions.
Has a team which leads the league in goal against in the third period ever qualified for the playoffs?
Since 2000 it hasn’t happened, and probably seldom if ever before that period.
Last year the Anaheim Ducks came rather close, as they missed qualifying for the playoffs by six points.
Teams which hold the ominous honor of leading in third period goals against usually finish near the bottom of their respective conferences. Normally they aren’t considered good hockey teams.
Currently the Blackhawks lead the NHL with 47 goals against in the third period. After looking at past results, 47 goals against in the final frame is a high total after 39 games. Usually even the worse teams don’t finish with more than 100 third period goals against for the entire year. This season, the lowly New York Islanders have allowed five fewer goals in the third frame than the Blackhawks.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Is it just me…Or does it seem like Tomas Kopecky is always on the ice?
Kopecky reminds me of Hawk players from the past who were in over their head. Really Kopecky can’t be faulted because he is trying. But the more Kopecky tries the more mistakes happen.
He can’t play center effectively. Besides making 10 foot passes to Marian Hossa, Kopecky usually isn’t able to make a play. When he does do something good, like the assist on the Patrick Sharp goal he follows it up with dumb hockey, a bad penalty and frequent poor passes.
Kopecky is not being put into a position to succeed and most on the coaching staff and in the front office must know the same. But sometimes there isn’t a better option and Kopecky is not the only player who is now overmatched.
Unless Joel Quenneville has forgotten how to coach, Kopecky wouldn’t be taking important faceoffs. Some of the line combinations and ice time distribution has been curious. Maybe Quenneville is being forced to stick with certain players. Or simply there is no other choice for the head coach or Stan Bowman.
This club was built around top players and when they are injured things seem to crumble quickly.
Even the loss of Fernando Pisani is significant because it changes line combinations.
If Pisani were healthy, maybe Brouwer would go to the top line and Dowell would become the third line center. That could mean Kopecky would play wing alongside Ryan Johnson on the fourth line. It could also mean Kopecky wouldn’t play 17 minutes a night and take important faceoffs. Not to mention always being used on the power play.
But now Quenneville’s hand is forced or there is another agenda I don’t understand.
If there are still any believers in Rockford Ice Hog help, stop kidding yourself. In my book Jeremy Morin should be here but most likely no one else. In a perfect situation Morin would stay in Rockford and maybe come up towards the playoffs. But the Hawks are certainly not a playoff lock and Morin could be needed sooner.
Sometimes players with affordable contracts are cheap for a reason and it isn’t because they are a bargain.
Look no further than the Hawks third pairing, of Nick Boynton and Jassen Cullimore.
Cullimore has played more responsibly than Boynton but the combination of the two is scary. They are playing for near minimum salaries and could still pass through waivers a dozen times before a claim would be entered.
So far Marty Turco has been what I expected, some games very good other times sub-par. For the most Turco has been adequate, but on a struggling team just ok usually isn’t good enough.
Turco took more than a $4 million pay cut to come to the Blackhawks, but I wouldn’t consider him a bargain.
When Turco looks slow going from post to post, or can’t secure rebounds he appears fairly priced. Many of his acrobatic great saves come as a result of poor rebound control and the inability to secure pucks in goal mouth scrambles.
On Thursday night the stage appeared to be set for a Blackhawks come from behind victory.
The Sharks are one of the best faceoff teams in the NHL but the Hawks were better at the dot last night.
Antti Niemi wasn’t at the top of his game which meant a lot because Turco wasn’t great either. In essence neither goalie would help a team which was outplayed steal a win. So all the Hawks had to do was win the final twenty minutes.
The Blackhawks played a more physical game and outhit the Sharks by 19. Bear in mind the team without the puck does most of the hitting but the Hawks answered the Sharks’ physical challenge.
The Hawks scored a fluke goal and one which beat the horn by less than a second to even the score at the end of forty minutes. A little luck never hurts.
The Hawks did show up, they came with a renewed sense of determination, but in the end the wrong type of effort resulted. Two more home ice points were squandered and the Blackhawks record when tied going into the third period stands at 2-7-1. Out of a possible 20 available points in that situation, the Hawks have captured only five.
The better teams, those which are playoff bound usually get stronger as the game goes on.
Those clubs don’t make mental mistakes due to fatigue or inexperience late in games because they know how to win. Winning teams don’t take careless penalties because they are out of position and get caught reaching. Confident winning clubs play with the same effectiveness throughout a contest and don’t appear to scramble when the game is on the line.
Last night the Hawks wanted to win, it wasn’t the same lay down effort that happened in St. Louis. They just weren’t good enough to seal deal.
Last night’s game was poorly officiated, bad calls for each team.
The Seabrook hooking penalty was an awful call.
The Hawks finished December 6-5-1. That isn’t good enough especially considering eight games were on home ice.
For January the Hawks will play 11 times with seven games to be held at the UC.
I caught the game at home last night and Edzo said the Hawks should shoot for one game over .500 while Jonathan Toews is out.
That’s probably a realistic goal but if that were to happen it could mean another wasted month.
Let’s say Toews returns January 15, which would mean he misses six more games.
Considering the upcoming competition and their current injuries the next six games might be the Hawks softest stretch for the rest of the season.
The next two games will be on the road while the following four will be at home.
Here are the next six opponents, the Ducks, Kings, Stars, Senators, Islanders and Avalanche.
Even without the captain the Hawks need to win at least four of six.
The Hawks record for January needs to be better than December.
After January only 12 of the final 32 games will be played at home.
When teams do things they haven’t done in decades it is time to take notice. Last year’s Hawks’ team immediately comes to mind.
The other night the Canucks skated into Philly and beat the Flyers. That is the first time Vancouver has won in Philly in 21 years. Granted they don’t play every year but still a significant win.
Vancouver could be the class of the West, although Detroit won’t go away.
The Sharks are good enough to have beaten the Hawks three times in a row but they seem to be a couple of players short of the Canucks and Wings.
2010 was a tremendous year for the Blackhawks and their fans.
Unfortunately the story hasn’t been as rosy this season.
To end on a positive note there are a few good things to report.
Eddie O. and Pat Foley have signed a three year contract extension.
The second printing of ‘One Goal’ will be released by the end of January.
Finally, the players will be accompanied by their mothers on the two game road trip to California.
Hopefully 2011 will be filled with positive on ice events.
To All…..A Happy and Healthy New Year
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