Has lack of effort been to blame for Blackhawks' struggles?

Has lack of effort been to blame for Blackhawks' struggles?
March 15, 2014, 3:30 pm
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The Chicago Blackhawks worked on their battle drills through the second part of Saturday afternoon’s practice.

It was the right drill of choice, considering the Blackhawks have lacked that battle in too many recent games. Now they have 15 games to get it back before the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks have been frustrated in recent outings, and coach Joel Quenneville’s anger was palpable after their 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday night. Every team is going to lose games; but if a team’s losing because the lack of effort is there, coaches are going to be ticked. The Blackhawks, right now, are in that category.

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So the edict has been read, and heard, loud and clear: the Blackhawks’ usually strong work ethic has been absent, and it has to return ASAP.

“I don’t think he’s happy. We’re not happy, either. A lot of the things that are costing us games are preventable and it’s up to us to apply why Q’s talking about,” said Patrick Sharp, who wasn’t going down the excuse path for what’s gone wrong lately. “It’s easy to point the finger at those things. Mistakes we’re making aren’t from lack of energy or fatigue, if that’s what you’re getting at. It’s more the mental focus and doing the little things to be successful.”

So what’s gone wrong? Looking at recent games, it seems like some Blackhawks have worked their tails off but that they’re not getting that from everyone.

“The last couple of (losses) were definitely winnable hockey games. Those are the games that bother us, me more than anybody. We didn’t play the right way to give us a chance to win,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t challenge pucks, weren’t hard in the puck area, we were easy to play against. They outmanned us in puck areas and came up with all the loose pucks. When you don’t come up with loose pucks anywhere around the rink, you’re going to be chasing. We were chasing the game and score in both games.”

And as far as players trying to do too much, coach Joel Quenneville said it’s more the opposite of that.

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“I’d like to see more of doing something,” he said. “Our speed, pace, puck support and work ethic have eroded a little bit, particularly in the last two games.”

The Blackhawks jumbled lines again on Saturday. Marian Hossa, who’s likely to return Sunday against Detroit, was on the top line with Kris Versteeg and Jonathan Toews. Bryan Bickell was on the second line with Michal Handzus and Patrick Kane and Sharp was on the third line with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad. The last one was a bit of a surprise but Quenneville said the move wasn’t putting the focus solely on Sharp.

“There are a number of guys…we need several guys to add to our group here,” he said. “We (haven’t) had our four-line game the last little while here. We have to recapture that. You get one or two guys out of synch and it slows the process down and it’s tough to get where we want to get to.”

Some talked about the lull they went through out of the Olympic break in 2010, when they went on to win the Stanley Cup. Some things are similar; a lot of the core players are still here from then. But this is a different season and the Blackhawks are ultimately focused on improving their future standings, not looking at the past. And to move forward, the Blackhawks need the battle back in their game.

“We have to get our game back on track,” Kris Versteeg said. “Battle drills, hard work, the guys know what they need to do. We have to find urgency in our game, right off the puck drop.”