Before this season began my thinking was Dave Bolland was going to be a key player for the Blackhawks. It seems many have discounted his loss but it does matter. Bolland’s absence is felt even if it is not always apparent by looking at the scoreboard.
The understated Bolland does everything well without a lot of flash.
Long time Hawk fans can compare him to Troy Murray but Bolland may become more of a goal scorer. My thinking was if Bolland could improve upon his 19 goals and 27 assists of last year the Hawks would be in business this season.
Those offensive totals don’t jump off the page and some may say they were padded by playing with the creative Marty Havlat. There is some truth to that thinking. But in the same regard Havlat hasn’t fared very well without the strong board work and smooth play of Bolland.
When Bolland was referred to last winter by assistant coach Mike Havliland as the lifeblood of the team it surprised me a little. If one were to watch closely Haviland’s comments wouldn’t come as a total shock. Having a second line center which can play effectively in all three zones is a great advantage.
Bolland was greatly appreciated by his teammates, coaches and management.
This summer he was the first of the restricted free agents to be locked up with a long term contract. Bolland’s hefty five year deal was not influenced by the qualifying offer screw up, he signed prior to that embarrassment. The young center is considered one of the better players on the roster even though he doesn’t get top billing.
Before the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane era the Hawks team could have been thought of like an old car. Sometimes the clunker would start and barely run and other times it wouldn’t be able to move out of the garage. Now the Blackhawks are a finely built machine. Every part matters and if one is missing things can get out of balance.
Six goals in four games aren’t going to cut it.
The Hawks haven’t been finishing chances and have been missing the net too often. They have missed fired 32 times the last two games. The Hawks also have had a difficult time scoring when playing five on five.
Fortunately they are a talented squad which finds a way to win on most nights. Credit the coaching and their determination, but this is not a team full of elite goal scorers. The Hawks will not have the same potent offense as long as they are minus an effective second line center.
On Friday night they threw everything at the seldom played Patrick Lalime in the first period but he stood tall. It was the Sabres who struck first and never relinquished the lead. Actually Buffalo was badly outplayed for much of the opening period but came back strongly in the middle frame. The Hawks were mostly outworked after their opening flourishes and could never solve Lalime except for a Patrick Sharp tally.
The result was another low scoring contest but this time the Hawks were the losers. That will be the case sometimes. All is not lost although realistic expectations about the offense are needed.
Scoring for the entire league is down.
No matter how the ever changing rule interpretations play out there isn’t suddenly going to be a surge in high scoring contests. The NHL is different now as there is much more emphases placed on defense. The advent of video coaching, plus talented goal keepers wearing super sized equipment makes scoring goals a more difficult task.
If it is not Andrew Ladd it’s Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, John Madden, and Brian Campbell which haven’t been able to finish their chances, but the list could go on.
Give the Blackhawk goalies and defense high marks as Chicago ranks second in all the NHL in goals against. How many would have guessed that to be the case after 30 games?
So why doesn’t the offense consistently click?
The Blackhawks have adjusted to their injury woes but there is a balance which must be achieved to fire on all cylinders.
For the most part the Hawks win these days because the other team doesn’t have the puck often enough to generate many scoring opportunities. They are a top puck possession team but winning low scoring games every night is a difficult challenge.
Dave Bolland being out hinders the Blackhawk offense but to take it a step further Adam Burish being on the shelf makes a difference also.
The skill set for either of those injured regulars has not been replaced. Now it comes down to everyone else doing a bit more and Joel Quenneville’s influence.
Coach Q. mentioned after the loss to the Sabres the lack of productivity will be examined. When pressed on the topic he commented about switching line combinations. Even though Quenneville is almost always changing lines, he remarked there are many more combinations he could try.
What coach Q. can’t do is change John Madden, Patrick Sharp or Kris Versteeg into another Dave Bolland. He also hasn’t been able to utilize his fourth line the way he did last season. Recent comments from Tomas Kopecky lead me to believe he is unsure of his role…..still after 28 games???
Regardless of Kopecky’s confusion, Ben Eager and Colin Fraser haven’t looked the same without Burish.
Eager played his best game of the year Friday night, but that trio has not been consistent on either side of the puck. Burish likely won’t be back until March, and there is nothing Quenneville can do about that.
Teams which go through long losing streaks almost always have trouble scoring.
So far the Hawks have not had a long string of loses despite a lack of offense. That is a testament to the deep talent level on this squad along with some very stingy goal keeping and strong defensive play.
No matter how many new line combinations Quenneville comes up with the losses of Bolland and Burish do make a difference. Good coaching and a deep roster have helped the Hawks attain some very good results thus far.
If a prolonged slump happens Stan Bowman can look to acquire some needed help.
It is never a good time to hit a skid and the Hawks might be able to keep winning at a good pace. But with nine of the next 13 games at home, poor outcomes can’t be tolerated.
Detroit has had a boat load of injuries but they are getting healthier. After so many exciting victories the Hawks are still in a dog fight. Chicago does have a game in hand but they lead Nashville by a slim three points and are only six ahead of Detroit in the Central Division.
At least Comcast Chicago has stopped running promos about the Hawks high powered offense. With the injuries which were sustained this season a consistent high powered goal scoring attack might not be a reality.
Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald reported there were 15 scouts watching the Hawks play the Sabres.At this time of the season that is big gathering, especially considering neither team is mired in a long slump.
Tim also wrote the Blackhawk player rumored to be on the trading block is Cam Barker.
I can’t count how many trade rumors Barker has been involved in the last three seasons.
In the beginning of last week I heard the same rumor about Barker being shopped from someone affiliated with a Western Conference team. They happen so frequently I hesitate to write about all of them.
Talk is Philadelphia is another loss or two away from shuffling the deck in a big way. The Flyers are looking for offense and maybe the same can be said for the Hawks.
Philly is a top five power play team, so Barker’s skill set might not be needed. If the Hawks trade a defenseman they would have to get one back in return.
Philly has a player with an expiring contract which could fill a need for the Hawks.
Wouldn’t the Flyers big defenseman, Braydon Coburn, look good in a Blackhawks uniform?
The Flyers could be looking for a goal scorer like Patrick Sharp, who they regrettably traded away. There is a notion that Philly needs to break up their very young core of offensive talent. The story going around is they mesh better off the ice then on…
Sharp will be 28 years old in a couple of weeks which would make him older than many of the Flyers top scorers.
How could Bowman even think about trading Sharp without getting a skilled center in return?
It’s complicated and will stay that way for awhile.
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