Blackhawks working to shore up defense

Blackhawks working to shore up defense
February 5, 2012, 9:33 pm
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The losses are starting to mount, and the way the Chicago Blackhawks are losing is whats most troubling: poor team defense has been rearing its ugly head again.

So on Sunday, it was back to the old dry erase board.

The Blackhawks got back to work with what forward Viktor Stalberg called a tougher, rougher practice on Sunday, as they try to snap a five game winless streak. The mantra? Checking and playing defense have to be top priority.

Its just keeping it simple on the ice, starting from defensive zone out, defenseman Steve Montador said. Weve done well against good opponents, and in those games weve concentrated on checking, playing defense first. Practice today was a reminder of that, practice tomorrow will be a reminder of that. Every day were talking defensive focus first.

Talking about it is one thing. But the Blackhawks need to bring that defense-first attitude more consistently than they have. When the Blackhawks went on their 5-0-2 run in January, they gave up 16 goals in those eight games. In their current 0-4-1 skid, theyve allowed 22, including those eight to Edmonton on Thursday.

That has to be a part we can rely on, whether were holding a 1-0 lead, or its a 2-1 game or 1-1 game, coach Joel Quenneville said of the defensive game. Down the stretch, there are going to be a lot of low-scoring games and we have to be committed to playing those types of games.

So it was back to the old dry erase board on Sunday. The Blackhawks emphasized the defensive mantra and took out their frustrations on each other on the Johnnys West ice. Stalberg said practices like that can be therapeutic.

Sometimes when everyones a little frustrated, you go hard, battle and get some of that out on the ice, Stalberg said. Every time weve been in a slump we go through one of these rougher, tougher practices and it tends to work.

Getting their aggressions out is one thing, but it ultimately comes down to playing better team defense. Yes, theyre still sitting in sixth place in the West. But theyve got three more road games coming up this week, none of which will be easy, and they cant afford to lose more ground.

Defense leads to offense. The Blackhawks have preached it during their successful times. Now they have to practice what they preach more often.

It has to be solid checking, defensive-minded (hockey) first, Montador said. When we take care of that part of our game, we have the players, the speed and the skill to get the chances on offense. But its thinking defensively first.