Hawks Still Building Toward Success….Huet Starts

The better team won on Wednesday night as the Canucks edged the Hawks 3-2. Antti Niemi was outstanding at times but the Hawks were outplayed for most of the game. Overall Niemi was good but he still let in a bad goal for the game winner.  It would not be overly critical to say he should have saved the second Canuck score as well. 

Niemi could be the real deal, but it s too early to tell if he will be consistently good. His did get the crowd into the game with some great stops but in the end he left you wanting more. The same can be said for all the Blackhawks. It can’t be forgotten there is still a lot of work to do here. 

This group may become an outstanding team but that doesn’t happen with sheer talent alone. The franchise has built a good nucleus to succeed for the long haul. But the process of becoming a consistent winner is still unfolding. 

As much as the Hawks show an abundance of skill they fail to sustain a top effort throughout most games. This team is very good but they are not good enough to beat the better teams when they aren’t completely dialed in. The players don’t display an arrogant personality but sometimes they may think they are better than they actually are and lose focus. 

Duncan Keith commented after the game the Hawks did not keep their intensity up and were sloppy. He also remarked they get a little too pretty at times and didn’t keep it simple enough. He believes the Hawks are a good team but realizes they aren’t playing consistently. 

The other night as I watched the middle frame those were exactly my thoughts. 

The Canucks played a solid defensive game and they did a fine job on special teams. The Hawks appeared to be the slower, more tired team in the final forty minutes of action. Taking penalty after penalty does fatigue a team. The Hawks were outplayed in the middle frame and were very fortunate to have a one goal lead going into the last period. 

Things unraveled for Chicago in the final twenty minutes. 

At about the 14 minute mark of the final frame Toews was crunched by a good open ice check by the Canucks Willie Mitchell. It was a vicious hit but it was not a dirty play. Mitchell came out of the penalty box and took advantage of Toews looking the other way to catch a pass. 

Toews was rocked and although his head did not strike the ice he appeared to almost be knocked out. Next time Brouwer doesn’t make the same pass….when an opponent’s penalty is expiring. More than all else it was a case of Toews being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fortunately Mitchell didn’t lead with his elbow but he did catch Toews on the chin with his shoulder.  

The captain slowly skated to the bench and shortly afterward had to be helped to the dressing room and did not return.  The word from the Hawks is he is progressing and may not miss Saturday’s game. The same prognosis was given to Brent Seabrook who also has to get examined and receive clearance to play on the weekend. For now it appears neither has a serious concussion and they still might face the Predators.  

What resulted shortly after were two Canuck goals and a blown third period lead. 

So far the Hawks are experiencing some unfortunate injuries and have also developed some poor habits which are making winning more difficult. 

Injuries, flaws and miscues… 

Ben Eager is sidelined with concussion like symptoms and there is no expected time set for his return. Eager could be out for quite awhile. 

Dave Bolland is still experiencing back pain and although playing he isn’t close to 100%.  The story going around is Bolland is often in pain but there is no specific diagnosis concerning his back condition. He is moving slower than usual and may have to cope with the pain throughout the season. 

Bolland doesn’t get the press of some other Hawks but make no mistake he is one of the best players on the team. He looks to be only at about 70%, maybe less, but is still an effective player in most situations. The Hawks need him as an offensive center and his nagging back could be lessening his production. 

Dustin Byfuglien is getting swarmed in scrums. 

Against the Canucks big Buff drew a roughing penalty which led to a power play goal. Byfuglien shouldn’t be blamed as he had to fend off three Canucks while trying to assist Kane who was getting a hard time from Mikael Samuellson. While the scrum was going on Campbell and Hjalmarsson refused to get involved. The pair was staring at the Hawks bench as if to look for permission to join the skirmish behind the Canuck net. 

Campbell and Hjalmarsson were afraid if they went into the scrum the faceoff would move out of the Canucks zone. They were correct the upcoming faceoff would have moved… but so what.

There were thirty seconds to go in the first period and the Hawks led the game 1-0. Kane was getting abused and Buff was tied up, there should have been little hesitation to help. Because the Hawks were outnumbered behind the net Byfuglien had to be very aggressive and he drew a penalty. If Campbell and Hjalmarsson were there to help, the Hawks probably would not have wound up short handed. 

When Toews was hit by Mitchell, Versteeg quickly came to his aid and received an extra two minutes in the box. It is understandable to standup for a teammate. Most likely Toews would rather have banked the two points  than anyone sending a message to Mitchell. 

One time there wasn’t enough aggressiveness shown and a little later maybe too much. The result was the same; the Hawks penalty killing unit was getting a work out. 

Lately the Hawks are taking some ill advised penalties, they have to stop. 

The Hawks power play needs a lift. All players seem to be watching Kane and not moving, especially in 5 on 3 situations.  

Some trends need to change. 

The Hawks have yet to score a goal this season when on a 5 on 3 advantage. (0-4) 

Both Huet and Niemi have let in glove side goals which should have been saved. 

The Hawks flip flop from a swarming offensive hard charging club to one which passes too often and looks for the pretty play. 

Going forward…. 

This should be the time to take advantage of a favorable schedule instead of struggling to get home wins. There is no reason for the Hawks to not sustain energy through 60 minutes at this point in the season. 

Two United Center losses in a row will put pressure on the squad as they face the struggling Predators on Saturday. Surely the practices will be dialed up as Quenneville’s patience has to be running thin. 

Because Niemi failed to beat the Canucks, Huet will quickly get another chance for a home win. If ever there was any opportunity to play the struggling Huet it would be against the feeble Nashville offense. If Huet didn’t get the start,  it would have illustrated a total lack of confidence from Quenneville. 

The key moment in the Vancouver loss was when the Hawks were on the power play leading 2-1 and couldn’t convert. Luongo made some great saves, one in particular on Patrick Sharp. Luongo wasn’t often tested but he was solid when called upon. 

The Canucks played a more resolute and focused game.  

The Blackhawks have to keep it simple and stay focused throughout the entire game against the Predators. The Hawks will play three of the next four games at home and will face Nashville twice in that span. The Predators have struggled but they can’t be over looked. 

Every team has to deal with injuries; the Canucks were without some very good players on Wednesday night. With or without Toews and or Seabrook, the Hawks need to get on a roll because it will get more difficult later on.  Columbus, St. Louis, San Jose,  Anaheim and other tough rivals are still to come.

 Al’s Shots 

Jordan Hendry got a start on Wednesday as Brent Sopel was a healthy scratch. 

Hendry looked tentative, no surprise as it was his first start of the season. His partner Cam Barker had a poor outing and Brian Campbell was not sharp either. 

One of the main reasons the Hawks beat the Canucks in last year’s playoffs was because of the play of their fourth line. 

This time around the Vancouver fourth line handled Kopecky, Frasor and newcomer Ebbett. 

Seabrook was challenged to fight at least a couple of times by Shane O’Brien. O’Brien isn’t the smartest hockey player but he realized getting Seabrook off the ice for five minutes would be a great idea. 

Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson are above average defenders. Campbell, Barker, Sopel and Hendry as a group are maybe average. That’s one issue plus no one besides Seabrook is playing physical. 

There are a few teams out there who will be getting desperate to make some changes. Stan Bowman could be getting itchy to  tweak the  roster before the Hawks fall into the desperate category. 

That most likely won’t be accomplished through waiver claims. 

Teams don’t fear retaliation from anyone on the Hawks. Seabrook is too valuable to be off the ice serving fighting majors.   Brouwer, Byfuglien, and Ladd have been physical but it isn’t enough to deter anyone from provoking a fight or taking an opportunistic hit when available. 

blackhawkswin@comcast.net

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