Hawk Talk: Consistently inconsistent

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Hawk Talk: Consistently inconsistent

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
5:05 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

If Jeremy Morin's trip back to Rockford Monday means Dave Bolland is back from injury Wednesday, the Blackhawks will have all hands on deck for the first time this season. And they'll be out of excuses.

Not that they're making any inside the locker room. They admit to their mediocrity, which is proven by their record. Sunday's loss to Edmonton was light years better than their previous loss to the Oilers nine days earlier. Less humiliating, but more frustrating. Those baby faces will go into opponents' rinks a year or two from now and provide headaches, but there's no way that team should march into the United Center right now and deny the defending champs any points, twice, in less than a week and a half.

Joel Quenneville's squad did a good enough job most of the night from an effort and responsibility standpoint. Most of the night isn't working for them right now. The NHL's busiest team the opening month is on an 82-point pace. That won't make the playoffs in the West. And with the way things are going at home, the upcoming circus trip out west just might be circled on the calendar as a welcome getaway.

Brian Campbell's calm but accurate postgame critique about the lack of consistent focus and effort -- including practice habits carrying over into games -- were welcome words, and he's only had an up-close view of it for a couple of weeks.

There were chances to put the game away in the first five minutes of the second period, but the league's second-best power play going into the game couldn't light it up versus the league's worst penalty kill. Then, when your best players are spending time trying to kill three penalties in an 11-minute span late in the second and early in the third period with a one-goal lead, it adds to the degree of difficulty. In their six home losses, the Blackhawks have been outscored 11-3 in the third period.

On the "up" side so far, Viktor Stalberg seems to be improving every game, and while they didn't connect Sunday like they did the night before in Atlanta, playing the left side with Toews and Kane is a promising combination. He also got more physical over the weekend and is showing much more overall presence when he's on the ice.

Two players whose consistent effort and hard play, in general, shouldn't be overlooked, even though the offensive results have been limited, are Tomas Kopecky and Jack Skille. The former's had enough offensive chances playing much of the time with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, but those pucks that haven't gone in as often as he'd like isn't for lack of paying the price in the dirty areas. Skille's burst and willingness to sacrifice in those same spots has impressed coaches and teammates, even though his scoring history has yet to come through. He hasn't let that frustration affect his work ethic.

Jake Dowell's held up his end of the bargain centering the fourth line alongside a carousel of wingers. But this team's best players still need to be their best players, which hasn't occurred often enough.

Finally, the Hawks' overall goals-against average of 3.00 ranks in the bottom third of the NHL to begin the week. While that reflects somewhat poorly on the numbers for Marty Turco and Corey Crawford, who've been victims of a handful of painful, quirky goals, I'd hate to think where the team might be without some important saves they've made at critical times through the first 17 games.

This team isn't alone "fighting it" at this point. All you have to do is look to the East, where the Hawks' Cup predecessor is having trouble with consistency. Pittsburgh's been battling different issues (including a terrible start by Marc-Andre Fleury and the absence of Jordan Staal), but they sit at 7-7-1. You wouldn't think they'll be on the outside looking in come April, just as you wouldn't expect the same of the Blackhawks.

But with all the points the champs have already left on the table, they'll need to find a different level soon, starting with the very basics and commitment pointed out inside the locker room after Sunday's latest loss, by one of their own.

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

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Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

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The Blackhawks' starts have been all over the map this season but their finishes have usually been strong. That was the case again on Sunday night as the Blackhawks took a lead, lost a lead and regained a lead for good in their 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

This one featured a little bit of everything. So let's just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks' victory over Vancouver.

1. Jonathan Toews breaks through. If the Blackhawks captain's confidence was a little shaken with his lack of scoring this season, it should've gotten a boost with his Sunday outing. Toews' goal and three assists were as big for him as they were the Blackhawks, who needed every bit of it late against the Canucks. In his last 12 games Toews has three goals and eight assists. He's getting there. Said coach Joel Quenneville, "it seems like he was around the puck way more and when he does that, usually good things happen."

2. Great start. This hasn't been written very often but it was more than evident on Sunday night. If this wasn't the Blackhawks' best opening period of the season it was pretty close, as they broke out to a 2-0 lead against the Canucks. The Blackhawks, outside of a 3 ½-minute sequence without a shot on goal, were tenacious and ready to shoot, taking an 18-9 shots-on-goal edge in that first.

3. Corey Crawford rebounds. Quenneville considered Scott Darling for this game, an understandable thought with Darling coming off a 30-stop shutout. But he wanted Crawford to get back to where he was prior to his appendectomy, and Crawford took a step in that direction on Sunday night. In stopping 26 of 28 shots Crawford got his 18th victory of the season and 200th of his career. Quenneville said Crawford "looked like he was in control."

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4. Michal Kempny’s tough stretch. When Kempny has been good this season he's been very good. When he's been bad... The defenseman was in the penalty box when the Canucks scored their first goal and he was beaten by Bo Horvat on the Canucks' second goal. Kempny didn't play the final 14 minutes of the game. Quenneville, who liked what Kempny brought on the team's road trip, said Kempny just has to work through some things. "Coverage with awareness and knowing sometimes it's man coverage, sometimes it's playing the puck and clearing the loose stuff," Quenneville said. "Defenseman is a tough position as you're growing and learning it, but the more you play the better you play and I still think he's making progress."

5. Brian Campbell gets to keep No. 500 this time. Campbell thought he had his 500th point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night but it was taken away. Well he got it back on Sunday night, setting up Richard Panik's 11th goal of the season in the first period.