Hawk Talk: Balancing acts for Cup defense

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Hawk Talk: Balancing acts for Cup defense

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted 4:51 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The Hockey Gods giveth and taketh. In the end - unless a team's completely snake-bitten - the bounces, the calls, and the reviews even out.

All you have to do is look at what's happened with the Blackhawks the past ten days.

March 28: Detroit could've argued why a hooking call was made against Henrik Zetterberg in the closing seconds of regulation, leading to Marian Hossa's game-winning, overtime power play goal.

Tuesday in Montreal, the overtime call against Jonathan Toews seemed (to me) borderline at best, not to mention a couple of seconds after the Bell Centre crowd began screaming its disapproval.

An even bigger issue for me is, if there's an unwritten code for players who've gained the so-called benefit of the doubt on such calls, in those crucial situations, hasn't Toews earned it? Especially against a rookie?

Twenty-four hours later, the Hawks were smiled upon by the inconclusive video review of Hossa's goal, between the skate, the crawl across the goal line, and whether his stick glanced off the puck after contact with the skate. Once the puck completed its trek to the opposite post, it headed inside the net as Ty Conklin tried to cover it up.

By the time Toronto decided it couldn't overturn the on-ice call, the Zamboni could've supplied a completely clean sheet of ice.

Patrick Sharp assisted on that goal after forcing himself to return earlier than he probably should've. Based on his goal total and magazine-cover status, his toughness factor can be overlooked. But he doesn't wear an "A" without reason, and was probably as tired as the rest of us watching the offense limp as he limped around. After just two brief test skates Tuesday and Wednesday morning, he decided the most important game of the year was the time to bite the bullet, suit up, and then led the team with four hits in 19 12 minutes of action.

His return also allowed the rest of the lineup get closer to its comfort zone - where it hasn't been since Sharp joined Dave Bolland on the sideline. That's another thing that showed up on the stat sheet. Patrick Kane, Toews, Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook had combined for 10 goals and 28 points after Sharp was helped off the ice in Phoenix, and became the subject of increasing defensive awareness by opponents.

Hard, pressure-packed minutes became even harder as everyone else on the roster in that span had combined for four goals and 13 points. Once the Hossa ruling came, that secondary group finished the night with two goals and six points.

I wrote at the start of the season that by the time we got to this last week, the team's post-season success would depend on health and the newcomers adapting and fitting into roles the departed Cup-winners supplied. They'd started to do it in that eight-game winning streak, prior to the Bolland and Sharp injuries.

I didn't write anything about how difficult it would be to qualify. It's probably fitting that a team that's been one of the biggest thorns in the Hawks' side this season (Dallas) is the last one they're racing to the finish line.

It's a nice confidence boost heading to Detroit, where they should have a good feeling anyway. They've won in their last four trips to Joe Louis Arena, and grabbing three of a possible four points in their final back-to-back versus the Habs and Blues can only help a psyche that almost certainly was being tested.

Through 80 games, there's still work to be done. If the Blackhawks finish that job and get to defend their Stanley Cup, I'm curious to see how the group responds to being able to hit the "reset" button and fill up their tanks again mentally and, hopefully, physically.

And they'd only have to worry about one team they're playing in that round, and not the multiple teams they've been battling for the opportunity to play beyond Sunday.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Blackhawks acquire Michael Latta from Kings in swap of minor leaguers

Blackhawks acquire Michael Latta from Kings in swap of minor leaguers

The Blackhawks made a minor league deal on Saturday, announcing the acquisition of forward Michael Latta from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenseman Cameron Schilling.

Latta, 25, has two goals and four assists in 29 games this season with the Ontario (Calif.) Reign of the American Hockey League.

He has four goals and 13 assists in 113 career games in the National Hockey League, all with the Washington Capitals from 2013-16.

Latta, who was a third-round pick (No. 72 overall) by the Nashville Predators in 2009, will report to the AHL's Rockford IceHogs. He carries a $600,000 cap hit, and is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Schilling ranked second among defensemen on the IceHogs with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 40 games, and had a minus-3 rating. The 28-year-old blue liner signed a two-year contract worth $575,000 per season with the Blackhawks in July 2015.

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

See the Blackhawks get off to a slow start. See the Blackhawks get outshot. See the Blackhawks lean on their goaltending. See the Blackhawks find some offense in the third period. See the Blackhawks win.

This is a story the Blackhawks have written and played out plenty this season. Despite all evidence that it should work out to the contrary, the Blackhawks continue to pull out victories. But as we're well into the second half of the season, how much longer can they win with this formula? And is this, more than anything, a testament to how much they need to acquire someone (or plural) at the deadline to bolster their forward lineup?

Entering Sunday night's game against Vancouver the Blackhawks remain second in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota. Not surprisingly, they enter Sunday coming off another one-goal victory, a 1-0 decision over Boston on Friday night. Friday's game was cut from the same cloth as so many other one-goal games this season (please see above for the script). 

Here's how the Blackhawks are doing in one-goal games (through 48 games played this season) and how they've done in previous seasons:

Year Record
2016-17 18-7-5
2015-16 17-7-9
2014-15 22-13-6
2013-14 17-8-15
2012-13 19-3-5 (lockout yr.)
2011-12 22-6-11
2010-11 16-13-9
2009-10 23-9-8

The Blackhawks played 41 one-goal games (half of their regular-season games) in the 2014-15 season. Thirty of their 48 games this season have been one-goal games. But again, it comes down to how you're winning those games, and the Blackhawks are winning just about all of them in the same way: deal with a slow start and come back in the third period, relying on goaltending the entire time.

Being outshot the amount of times the Blackhawks have this season remains alarming. Sure, sometimes a lot of shots don't mean a lot of quality chances. But it's still better than minimal shots, and any shot can be an opportunity for a rebound, a deflection, something. From our stats guru Chris Kamka, here's a breakdown of the Blackhawks' shots per game vs. opponents, dating back to 2008-09:

Year Shots/Gm Opp. Shots/Gm Diff.
2008-09 32.7 28.6 +4.2
2009-10 34.1 25.1 +9.1
2010-11 32.2 28.7 +3.6
2011-12 31.5 28.6 +3.0
2012-13 31.1 26.2 +4.9
2013-14 33.1 27.2 +6.0
2014-15 33.9 30.2 +3.8
2015-16 30.5 30.8 -0.3
2016-17 29.3 31.1 -1.7

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

It's no surprise that the Blackhawks' differential was especially good in their Stanley Cup-winning seasons (and even 2013-14, when they went to the Western Conference Final). Those Blackhawks teams were deep, especially at forward. They weren't waiting for the perfect shooting opportunities as much as just firing. They had great four-line rotations, something they've sorely been lacking the past two seasons, which makes a difference with puck possession.

The Blackhawks will see what's available at the trade deadline. As I wrote a few days ago, there will be names out there but, considering some teams are still hoping for playoff spots, you take mentions for what they are right now. Over the next few weeks the picture will become clearer, and adding the right depth could rekindle that four-line rotation.

We've said throughout this season that the Blackhawks can't keep this up. We said it in November, and December, and now. Understand where we're coming from here; the Blackhawks can absolutely keep winning one-goal games. They've shown that in recent seasons and in the postseason, when the ability to do that is critical. But it's doubtful they can keep doing it the way they have most this season.