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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