Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Crashing Around You

Unfortunately for the Hawks, this epic slide they are riding has provided SO much material for the columnists, bloggers, and twatards. The problem is that 90% of them look like complete and utter imbeciles. Of course, I'm not excluding my very own imbecilic tendencies, but some of these people put me to absolute shame. I addressed some of the silly trade scenarios last week, but I didn't really address what some of the problems may be. Of course, I don't have press credentials, and I don't have access to any more information than the average fan does, but I see things, unlike seeing dead people. These are a few of my opinions, of which I'm NEVER short on.

Currently the Blackhawks are 29-20-7 with 65 points and in 6th place, right behind tonight's opponent, the Nashville Predators. They are have lost eight in a row, and are 2-7-1 in their last 10 games. Obviously, it's not time to throw the red flags around, but it is certainly time to raise the concern level to a healthy orange. The team is hurting, both physically and mentally, but WHY?
  • Goals Against
    The easiest place to throw the blame is between the pipes. Call me loyal and biased, but since I've been known to impersonate a goaltender on occasion, I tend to spread the blame around a little more than most. When any other player, beside a goaltender, makes a mistake, there is someone behind them that has a chance to bail them out. If they do, all is forgotten. If not, the goalie is a sieve and a scapegoat. Goalies certainly can be at fault as well, but it's not always their fault. This would be a boring sport if goalies were perfect. Hockey purists will watch how a play breaks down, not just look at the final result and spit out "that fuckin goalie fuckin sucks, fuckin trade him", as they are spitting chewed up tortilla chips all over their beer bellies. This by no means, is to say that the Blackhawks goalies haven't had their issues, because they have. Noticeably. But look at the situation this way; if you don't/can't trust the team in front of you, what does that do for your confidence? It leaves you second guessing, and trying to overcompensate. This is where the problem lies.

    Neither Crawford or Emery are upper echelon goalies that will carry a team on their back for long stretches. They were never expected to be that kind of player, well, at least from anyone who actually knows something about the sport, other than which are the cutest players and which ones they can get to respond to their tweets. They are serviceable goaltenders that can be, and have been, successful players. Let me repeat; can be, and have been, successful. BUT, this is when they are in their comfort zone, not facing an inordinate amount of oddman breaks nightly, or facing the obligatory shorthanded breakaway against. I've been there myself and I'm CERTAINLY no all-star. When you see an opposing player come out of the penalty box and find the puck on their stick for a break-a-way for three games in a row, you start to think to yourself, "What the fuck, guys?".

    They have DEFINITELY played sub par lately, but did you see these kind of mistakes early in the trip? Not so much. They look gun shy, and like they are overcompensating, which is NOT where they are most effective. I'm not saying this is acceptable, but they need help getting out of this funk.

    What happened to the defensive brotherhood? What happened to helping your goaltender out, rather than hanging him out to dry? Players are left to camp in front of the net, without so much as a stick getting tied up. The odd-man breaks against are laughable. It's open season on goawies, Elmer Fudd! The defensemen, AND forwards for that matter, are relying too much on their ability to block shots, and not enough on actually playing the physical aspect of defense. It's time to get tough, and clamp down. SHOW your goalies that you have their back, and would take a puck to the grill for them. IT GOES A LONG WAY! When a team shows no respect to their netminder, he has no reason to show them respect. When a goaltender sees a player sacrifice himself for the players behind him, it becomes contagious. Put another goalie in there behind the same defense and they will be looking like they have Tourette's too. It's a matter of what you're conditioned for, and these two have been conditioned to try and do other people's jobs, as well.

    There is nothing on the market that will be a significant upgrade over what they currently have, so get used to #50 and #30 until, at least, the offseason. This brings me to my second point...
  • Defense
    I honestly believe this is where the majority of the problems stem. The Blackhawks have a #1, a #2, maaaaaybe a #4 and a bunch of #5's and #6's on their roster, and now that the forwards are all dinged up, the spotlight is on the defense. That spotlight is showing a GLARING hole right in the middle. A BLACK hole, to be exact. With the latest injuries to Hjalmarsson and Montador, the hole has gotten even bigger.

    The last few years, they had a 1a/2a type player, in Campbell, that offset the hole. You basically had 3-1/2 guys, and 3-5/6 guys. So that middle pair wasn't a traditional 3-4 pairing, but it worked itself out. Campbell held his partner together by carrying the puck more. That's gone, and this hole has opened up something that has been there all along, just disguised.

    Hammer is a beaten man, mentally and physically. He won't take the body, and just gets the absolute tar beat out of himself, on a nightly basis, and he's a great PK guy. Without his safety blanket, he's looking confused and trying to make up for what Leddy DOESN'T do on the back end.

    Leddy was suppose to be the heir apparent to Campbell, but he's young and still wet behind the ears. FULL of potential, but you don't step on the ice and turn into a Brian Campbell right out of High School. He's about 2 season's away from shouldering that load, at the very least. Even Duncan Keith, or Brian Campbell himself, weren't "Brian Campbell" at that age. It's not a knock on the kid, but give him some room to grow, instead of throwing him to the wolves, so they can feast. And, for god sakes, GET HIM OFF THE PK! That shiny new toy starts to look rough when you're constantly drilling it into the concrete.

    It has been pointed out, more recently, that Montador was a solid defender on a playoff team, and a pretty successful PK unit last season. He's no slouch, despite all the hate being thrown around. YET, he's been relegated to the #5 spot, and tethered to Sean O'Donnell, John Scott, Sami Lepisto, and Dylan Olsen. Two big painfully slow Yetis, a rusty doghouse/press box resident and a slow green kid. Not only that, but he has yet to sniff the terrible Hawks PK. Help a guy out a little. Shit! Better yet, in the words of Jerry McGuire, "Help ME, help YOU!"

    I, pretty much, just summed up the rest of the clowns, as well. A bunch of 5's and 6's, like a weight watchers meeting.

    If the Hawks ARE going to make a deal a the deadline, this is where it needs to be. If the back end gets it's shit together, the rest will follow in suit. A middle/bottom of the lineup defender can made an immense difference on this shit show we're seeing nightly. Move Montador up as a #4, and find a legit #3 guy. Move Hammer and Leddy down, and you have the makings of something solid. This is not going to be easy to accomplish, so maybe you move Hammer and let Leddy play #5 with O'Donnell. However it may play out, the Hawks can work with their existing talent at forward. They currently HAVE the talent up front, but the middle of the train is dragging the rest down.
  • Offense
    The offense isn't doing itself any favors, but the entire league knows they have the talent to help get this train rolling. First of all, Quenneville needs to stop fucking with the line combinations. When you can't have a consistent line mate for more than a period, your flow tends to get mucked up. Make them learn to work through the ebbs and flows a little. When the top line can't figure out if Vik Stalberg, Michael Frolik, or Andrew Shaw are the #3 guy on a shift to shift basis, you're not going to get much going. Lets not even get INTO Stalberg going from the 1st to the 4th line. He's your #3 forward, or your #10. Make a decision!

    Secondly, There seems to be a little "wrist" issue going on with 3 of the top 4 Hawks forwards, and it's affecting the scoring of the whole squad. Toews, Kane and Sharp have all had issues, in the last 12 months, with their wrists and it's starting to rear it's ugly head. While these are injuries that can be played through, it doesn't help when they have to work the puck 2/3 of the ice by themselves, sometimes. The craziness on the back end is forcing the forwards to back check deeper than usual, and get beat up before they even hit the opponents blue line. Wouldn't things be much better if the forwards could streak out of the zone, knowing that a defenseman other than one named Brent Seabrook could hit them with an outlet pass putting them in 2-on-2 rather than a 2-on-3 or 4? As things currently sit, if they don't bust their asses back like the building is on fire, the defense is doing them no favors. Fix the defense, and the offense will open up.

    Lastly, The one area of contention on offense, that they CAN control somewhat, is the powerplay. They just have too much talent on this roster to be THIS bad on the powerplay. Most of the blame on this one, though, the coaching, because everyone can clearly see that this philosophy isn't working. When something doesn't work, you change it. PERIOD. They've beaten the hell out of this carcass, and need to open up their options. This team CAN have a top 10 powerplay, when you put the pieces together correctly. I'm not even asking for top 25%, just top 33%. They are SOMEHOW 16th in the league, so it's nothing a little hot streak can't fix.

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