Whats wrong with the Blackhawks that a consistent, 60-minute commitment to defensive responsibility wouldnt solve?
The first question to the biggest culprit of this five-game slide is whether the current roster is capable of pulling that off. Based on the 53-game body of work, the answer is no. You've gotta see it to believe it. So far, weve rarely seen it.
Unless theres a belief in the locker room theres a switch the players can flip whenever they want to, a single point earned over the past five games lays the groundwork for a perilous road ahead. Not just for the six games that remain on this trip, but for the longer road haul. Defense and goaltending might be the two most important ingredients to winning a Stanley Cup and right now, there are three teams in their own division doing a better job with those ingredients than the Blackhawks.
Even before this slump, general manager Stan Bowman knew he needed help. Based on Fridays pregame comments, there arent yet any dance partners for what he (and others on a Cup-quest) has in mind. No one is giving up or has the player(s) hes looking for, or the price is too high, or no one is ready to throw in the towel on their own seasons. If his team doesnt start playing better between now and the Feb. 27 trade deadline, his job gets a lot tougher.
He remains true to The Core and at least through this season, looking only for additional pieces around players who have produced and won in the past for one of the best coaches in league history. But there are only so many buttons Joel Quenneville can push.
This team has a couple of young players going through their first full NHL seasons who have been regularly slotted in Top 4 and Top 6 roles. They will be so much better two more years and 10 more pounds from now.
They have two players who have given them nothing offensively this season after showing such third-line promise in last years playoffs. The last two games, as theyve continued to alternate between opportunities and healthy scratches, both have taken penalties which have led to power-play goals. Thats part of the reason the center they played with last spring cant find his consistency.
Theres a top defensive pairing once again putting in between 25 and 30 minutes per game, and so focused on covering up for their teammates defensive malaise they've been unable to jump into the offense, which makes the team so much better.
But wait, theres more.
A goalie who is still considered the future at that position (and should be) adjusting to being "The Guy" after finally earning that title a year ago when he wasnt "The Guy." His confidence hasnt been helped by teammates relying on him to cover their own mistakes. This team was built their starting goalie having to be very good (which hes proven he can be), but its forcing him to be great.
What we know about the most recent roster addition is that it hasnt supplied an immediate impact through three games. We also know the player whos generally expected to lead this team in goals has two in his last 21 games, and sits sixth on the team in that category.
Theres a few other things, too, but well start applying the brakes.
Expect Ray Emery to take the net for awhile, because if it has to be up to the goalie, he gives them the best chance right now. And until Bowman can pull the trigger on something, the opinion here is a callup or two from Rockford might be the only way to get better, personnel-wise, for this next three-game stretch.
While its still all about how a team is playing two months from now, and teams go through rough patches every season, the Blackhawks have collected just 13 points over the last 15 games. The question is whether theyre truly better than that, or if thats just what this team is -- which would be a huge disappointment from Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough down to the paying customers and viewers at home.
The feeling here is theyre certainly capable of being the former. But the longer theyre not
Nothing a nice three-game sweep of Colorado, San Jose and Phoenix cant cure. Right now its easier said than done.