Jive Talk

In all sports playing at a consistently high level is an indication of a very good team. When a team doesn’t have as much success it is a function of inconsistency due to a number of reasons. Not the correct mix of players, not enough talent, too many injuries and somewhere near the bottom of the list is inadequate effort.  

More often than not professional athletes have a strong will to win. They may not to do what is necessary to be successful on a consistent basis but a lack of effort isn’t usually the problem. Playing with an effective effort can be an issue but once again that doesn’t mean players aren’t trying to win.  

As the Blackhawks scratch and claw for every point the same annoying thesis from some fans and those in the media keeps surfacing. After a Hawks’ loss the post game commentary and call in rants often spout in the same direction. Common opinion for some is when the Hawks lose it is because they don’t try hard enough or weren’t prepared to play. 

The reality is the main reason this club continues to be in the playoff hunt is because of a strong will to win. In many games the Blackhawks’ lineup isn’t better than opponents. This is especially true against the top tier playoff teams, like the Capitals and the Sharks.  

There were games this season the Hawks weren’t as prepared as they should have been and the result was a loss. The first period against the Florida Panthers was a poor start and created a hole which led to a costly defeat. But not being ready to play will happen to every team at some point throughout a long grueling campaign. 

What irritates me the most is after a loss when the finger is pointed at a lack of effort as the reason for failure. In essence some believe the Hawks are as complete a team as any in the league, and they have enough talent to defeat every opponent if the will to win surfaces. I don’t believe that opinion is close to being correct. 

When everything is working correctly the Hawks can beat anyone. They have enough high end talent to out skill opponents and when they play effective team hockey good things happen. But that type of performance hasn’t happened often enough to put this team into a secure playoff slot. The Hawks are not as consistent as last year because this team isn’t nearly as talented as the Cup winning squad. 

This group is still as good as or better than many teams but the Hawks don’t have enough talent to win when they don’t play an effective game. Every player has to be pulling on the rope in the correct way. For the most part the reason for losses has little to do with a lack of will to win.  

Another fallacy is the Hawks have struggled primarily due to an abundance of injuries. It is true the Hawks haven’t had a complete lineup available for many games, but let’s put things into context. 

Injuries are always a factor in the NHL. But compared to last year, the Hawks will finish this season with about half as many man games lost due to injury. Sure the injuries matter more for this campaign because the team isn’t as deep. But it is lame to blame the Hawks struggles on injuries. Comparatively speaking the injury bug hasn’t bitten very often in Chicago. 

Going into Saturday’s game the Colorado Avalanche had suffered 342 man games lost due to injury. That staggering total is the highest in the Western Conference and third highest in the NHL. I don’t have the current total for the Blackhawks but it is less than 100 man games lost. 

The problem here is the Hawks can’t cope with key injuries as well as other teams. The Penguins have been able to play great hockey without their two best players. Pittsburgh has been able to plug in AHL players and still be successful. The Penguins know their system and play it to a tee regardless of injuries. So far the same can’t be said for the Blackhawks.  

So if it isn’t necessarily injuries or a lack of effort….Why hasn’t the Hawks surged to the top of the Western Conference? 

One big reason is although the season is almost over this team is still searching for the correct mix. 

Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland became linemates some 50 games into the season…Maybe a little late to establish sufficient chemistry.  The third and fourth lines weren’t formed until recently and still aren’t etched in stone. The top four defensemen have been overplayed especially Duncan Keith and the pairings always seem to be changing. Overall there is some significant wear surfacing in most of the better players who have played the most minutes. 

The other day a friend mentioned an old saying which bears repeating. In hockey goal keeping is always 80% of the game until it goes bad then it is 100%. 

Corey Crawford has been great this season, allowing two goals or less in the majority of his starts. But the difference of allowing one more goal, three instead of two per game, is enough to significantly reduce the chances of a Blackhawk victory. 

For the Hawks to qualify for the post season Crawford needs to be very good every game. Anything less and this team isn’t going to be playing in the post season.  

The NHL season is a war of attrition and the tank is almost empty for some players.   

As people complain about the latest loss saying…Keith should have been able to clear the crease and not have allowed Caps forward Mike Knuble to put in the game winner….I say not so fast. 

The Hawks didn’t lose yesterday because of one play. Actually the Capitals were the better team for almost the entire game. 

On Sunday the Hawks were fortunate to come away with a point. Keith played 30 hard minutes once again. It took all the effort he could muster to get off the ice following the game. 

Realistically the Hawks didn’t have a good chance of winning versus the Capitals without Bolland and with a hampered Brian Campbell. Any fan who believes differently isn’t chugging Blackhawk Kool-Aid they are bathing in it. 

Tonight another top tier team skates into the United Center. 

The Sharks know what will be needed to defeat the Hawks. Their big forwards will pound Duncan Keith and company and look to strike when the opportunity arises. 

Crawford will have to be great and the Hawk’s power play will have to be effective to gain two points. Hopefully all the forwards will play well so Joel Quenneville can spread out the minutes. Having only one line rolling won’t cut it against strong opponents. Maybe Campbell will be able to play more than a handful of minutes, otherwise more pressure will be heaped onto rookie Nick Leddy.

If everything lines up tonight the Hawks could come away with a hard fought victory. But if the Hawks lose please don’t blame injuries or a lack of will to win. Currently the Sharks, like the Capitals have proven to be better teams. 

Strong effort only matters so much.

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  1. shruew says:

    As for the Penguins comparison – probably something to how their AHL team has been a top team (and best record now) all season while Rockford has been scraping the barrel…

    I sometimes wonder how the system difference play in to how well an AHL can plug into the NHL. Rockford doesn’t have the players to play the puck posession game. You’re going to get about 20 minutes of penalties and a couple fights a game in Rockford.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      Another point is the Hawks don’t have the players to play the same puck possession game as last year either.

    • HawksinDC says:

      Yes – to prove your point Rockford is 2nd in PIMs in the AHL’s western conference, behind Peoria, and is the worst team in the AHL’s western conference.

      What is even more amazing is that Wilkes-Barre has the most points in the AHL, by 5 points, even with all the call ups to replace Orpik, Kunitz, Malkin, Crosby,etc.

      • Al Cimaglia says:

        Many things have changed in Chicago during the last four years….One thing which remains the same is young prospects are often puffed up too much.

      • shruew says:

        Speaking of Peoria as as round about way to bring up ex-Hawk Akim Aliu. I caught Peoria at the Wolves Friday and Akim has really gotten himself into shape.

  2. Al Cimaglia says:

    I think almost every team these days plays the same system in the AHL.

    But you touched on a significant point….and has been mentioned here in the past…

    The Ice Hogs except for a handful of players are not full of strong NHL prospects.

  3. Living the Cup says:

    I’m totally on side with your analysis here Al with the qualifier that the other posters have mentioned – the Hawks AHL players aren’t NHL ready like Pitt’s are.

    Another point that I think you’ll agree with is that too often this year the top end players on the Hawks have been guilty of trying TOO hard – forcing the issue, perhaps thinking they have to do even more this year.

    Case in point was yesterday’s OT. I’m not saying Keith was solely responsible for the loss (and let’s not forget he was responsible for the GTG with that brilliant bank pass to Toews and he has played well the last stretch of games) but his ill advised attempted pass to Campoli (who was also trying too hard to make something happen) started the sequence that ended with the GWG for Wash.

    That is not an isolated occurrence either for Keith or many others. This speaks to your point about the right kind of effort. Do your job do it to the best of your abilities but don’t over extend yourself – everyone has their limits.

    There was no play there for Keith – it was well intentioned but a poor decision, same for Campoli. Those sort of plays could cost us a playoff spot – it’s part of the mental toughness of hockey to play the game in front of you rather than the one you wish for.

    Overall though except for that 1st period in Florida they kept it together on the road trip and are playing consistently above average. Not necessarily great but well enough to get into the playoffs if they don’t lose their heads or if Crawford doesn’t blow up or if one or more of Toews/Kane/Hossa don’t get injured, especially Toews.

    With road games in Dallas and Phx later this week tonight’s game is crucial.

  4. Living the Cup says:

    Actually in the category of trying too hard you could add in Seabrook’s decision to take himself out of the game for fighting while the Hawks were already short staffed on the blueline.

    The Caps scored before Seabs got out of the box 7 minutes later!

  5. Dave Morris says:

    Al, as always, strong work and a well-thought out viewpoint.

    Hawks fans can be nervous about the team’s playoff chances, and understandably so…but the closeness of the Western Conference race is exceptional.

    More than one good team will miss the postseason as a result. Right now, apart from the Division leaders, and those teams fading, you can put the names into a hat and any one of CHI, DAL, LA, PHX, CGY, NSH, MIN, ANA could be in or out. 8 clubs, 5 spots, 6 points separating them. So plenty of Pepto-Bismol on hand.

    You are right when you say the Hawks may not have as much talent as the leaders…but when the playoffs start a few weeks from now, none of that will matter, and nor will the points, stats, etc etc racked up during the regular campaign. As we have seen so many times in post season contests, it’s all about getting in under the wire.

    The Blackhawks probably know, to a man, the difference between defending their Championship and hitting the golf course early. For many of them, their jobs depend on the result.

    Campbell being ‘walking wounded’, and Bolland’s absence, are just factors they will have to cope with.

    I suppose that all Hawkey People can do now, is cheer the boys on…the Hawks need every ounce of support they can get.

    • rock says:

      That game last night was pretty crazy. I was more impressed with how they called down the thunder in the second period and absolutely wrecked San Jose… Nothing like a terrible PK to get you back into games but still.

      Toews is the best player in the NHL right now and Kane is really starting to hit his stride. They get Keith back to 100% and they will be a very legitimate threat. And since his vertigo episode how much of a beast has big Hoss been… Definitely impressed with how he has elevated his play.

      Massive games coming up hopefully they can keep that ball rolling.

  6. Forklift says:

    There are always players that are always going to take winning/losing more in stride than others. There are guys who want no part of the puck in tight games (Joe Thornton is a good example of this). The Hawks have a lot of players who want the puck then, and that’s good. Toews’ compete level is in a par with the likes of Richard & Messier, and you can see guys like Kane, Sharp, Seabrook, Hossa et al. who are also dying for the puck to get the chance to win.

    What will aid the Hawks in this stretch run is they won’t pucker up as much as some of the other teams will. I see them landing no lower than 4th in the West, possibly with the 3rd best record.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      I am going to write about about a key point you brought up…Was thinking the same last night.

      The Hawk forwards do some of the best board work in the NHL. Versus the Sharks they won almost all of the puck battles…against a big set of forwards.

      I think if the Hawks land 4th …No one can complain much about that finish. The question will be…

      How much gas is left for the playoff drive.

      • vito says:

        Al, The same can be said for the other teams as far as gas in their tanks. They are all in the same marathon. If the Hawks play their best i do not see any team beating the Hawks.

  7. ChicagoNativeSon says:

    Long slow golf clap.
    Couldn’t agree more about most of your column Al.

    I’m not sure how strong you feel this year’s team is in comparison to the league, but tradition gauges like Corsi, goal differential, etc, suggest the team is finding its equilibrium and is among the league’s strongest teams. Are they the best? Definitely not, but *when healthy* I believe they can still match up with the likes of Detroit and San Jose. The three upcoming games with the Wings should provide more insight.

    I’m not as concerned as you about line chemistry. I’m much more concerned that the current line configurations can win individual games, but may not hold up in a 7 game series.

  8. Al Cimaglia says:

    I’m not as concerned as you about line chemistry. I’m much more concerned that the current line configurations can win individual games, but may not hold up in a 7 game series.

    I my view that is almost saying the same.

    As far as compared to the rest of the NHL…

    If healthy the Hawks are on the cusp of being a top tier team….By that I mean one of the 4 best in each Conference.

    If the playoffs began today Vancouver would deserve to be a big chalk in the West….

  9. Al Cimaglia says:

    I am not as big of a Corsi student as you…I like to look at stats but their significance from season to season changes.

    Goal differential points to the Hawks being a top tier team.

    Getting outscored in the 3rd period doesn’t…

    • ChicagoNativeSon says:

      Yeah, the 3rd period seems to be one of those situations where one can definitely state, “stats don’t tell the whole story.”

      I think they’re a top four team with not much distance between them and 2-3. Nucks are the powerhouse, but maybe the Hawks still have their number? Would be fun to find out either way.

  10. Frank S says:

    I think the wear down factor will be huge in the Western Conference. The only team exempt will be Vancouver. Here are my questions. Parity is great but at what cost? Are we shortening the careers of people like Keith and Seebs because everything is so tight in the west? It used to be the first 65-70 games were about just playing the game and the last month was a mad dash for some teams. Now everyone has to play “playoff” hockey in the West and some teams in the East for 30 plus games BEFORE you get into the playoffs. Right now I would bet on Vancouver, Philly, Wash, and Boston to be in the finals because they will not be worn out by the regular season.

  11. Al Cimaglia says:

    The fatigue factor is an interesting topic….I dwell on it here becuase no one has played more games than the Blackhawks the past two seasons.

    Also becasue the Hawks had a slow start their playoff mode started earlier…

  12. vito says:

    Al, I think if you look at the Red Wings in the past five years they are older and have played more games and the Hawks are young and with Toews leading the way i don’t see fatigue being a problem as matter of fact i would not be surprised if the Hawks take the division title away. All because of Toews, this guy is simply the best in the NHL.

  13. Al Cimaglia says:

    The Red Wings finished early last seaosn…at least for them. Playing two more series is a big difference.

    You are correct the Hawks have a lot of young legs and they will need them.

    Now if they can get healthy and stay that way …Who knows how far they can go…??

  14. Adam F says:

    I would argue/point out that the Canucks were a better more talented team than the Blackhawks last year as well. They had a Hart Trophy winner (might this year too), they’re defense wasn’t as injured as this year’s (….mmmmm…..maybe,maybe not on that one.) and Borat was having a much better year in goal. The Canucks are simply a cat whose fur you can stroke the wrong way and get them of their game. Especially in the playoffs, or as the Sedins like to call it, “Nap time”.

    The truth is I could see the Hawks going to the finals or getting bounced in the 1st round. The Toews line can’t go on like this forever, and every other line seems to go to the movies on any given night. ( With the exception of the fourth line. Viktor has been a whipping boy all season, and maybe even fairly. But for a guy whose strength is his speed, ever since he was put with TomoKop and RJ, he’s been in the corners and in front of the net and has done, watch for it, journalist word coming up…., YEOMAN’S WORK playing out of position). I believe they’re playing Russian roulette with the defensemen and Crawford needs a blow, not that Q is going to give him one. They also just throttled the Sharks and have been playing good hockey so maybe I should just shut up. So who knows. Although it should be fun as hell finding out.

    Al, as always, you’re the man.

  15. Al Cimaglia says:

    Hey Adam…

    I think even before last season’s playoffs began most around the NHL would have voted the Hawks bottom six forwards the best in the NHL….That has changed for sure.

    I agree they can’t get by for too long playing with only 5 dmen. Scott is taking some really short shifts…He wouldn’t have played more than 4 mins if the Hawks were not dominating on the scoreboard in the 3rd.

    A balance of talent and know how is greater on some clubs in the West but… Who knows when the playoffs begin if everything will click here?

    I just hope if the Hawks make it they still have enough left to compete for at least a couple of rounds.

    • djd says:

      I dunno guys. This tired vs rested debate can work both ways. I think it’s more about momentum. Two years ago the Canucks played hard down the stretch to gain the 3rd seed over Calgary. They were flying at the right time and cruised through a decent St Louis team in a 4 game sweep in the first round. Then they had a nine day layoff before they met the ‘hawks. During that span they lost their momentum and were defeated by the ‘hawks. The ‘hawks, on the other hand were getting physically pounded by Calgary in the first round and the series went 6 games with a couple of days rest before the ‘nucks series.

      Winning is like exercise, the more you do it the more energy you get. While it is true the team has had a long tough row to hoe this season, they recently played 5 games in 7 days and won every one of them. Their b2b record in the second game is terrific as well.

      If Q keeps rolling four lines, and the team is healthy and playing well, I don’t see the schedule being much of a factor.

      • Al Cimaglia says:

        If Q keeps rolling four lines, and the team is healthy and playing well, I don’t see the schedule being much of a factor.

        I agree…but that is a big if…

        Also the back to back record flies in the face of those who keep wanting to point to excessive partying etc as being a cause for concern….

        Players don’t all go straight home following games.

        • djd says:

          At 20 something, neither did I. LOL!

          The big if is that the ‘hawks don’t get behind in the games. As soon as they trail by more than a goal Q seems to go into panic mode and shortens the bench.

          • Living the Cup says:

            I don’t think that’s any different than any other team down by a gaol or more in what are basically now playoff games.

  16. Al Cimaglia says:

    BTW…..

    YEOMAN’S WORK will never be used by me…Not that I would be considered a journalist.