Hawk Talk: D-flating Weekend for Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: D-flating Weekend for Blackhawks

Sunday, Mar. 14, 2010
9:41 P.M.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Niklas Hjalmarsson is one of the least-experienced Blackhawks at the NHL level. But he spoke wise beyond his years in assessing the team's play of late after a second come-from-ahead loss in 24 hours. In essence, he said they'll only last a "few games" in the playoffs if they continue playing as they have lately.

That's the bigger story coming out of Sunday's 4-3 home defeat than the severity of Alex Ovechkin's penalty for his hit on Brian Campbell. And the absence of Ovechkin only made the pain of the defeat hurt a little more. Tack on the fact that the much-criticized goalkeeping was actually solid for both games, and the concerns might be considered even greater. After all, that's what the players have been telling us during this goaltending debate.

The Hawks have a month to fix it so their young defenseman's prediction doesn't come true. The defensive coverage - or lack of - created those opportunities against the Flyers and the Caps, who are still pretty potent without their two-time MVP. Those are the kinds of games that'll be sitting there when the post-season bell rings - late 2-1 leads on the road....3-0 third period leads at home. And unfortunately for the guys in the middle of the roster "scratch" game, two of them ended up taking costly high-sticking penalties in that last period - Jordan Hendry and Colin Fraser. That's asking for nothing but trouble against the NHL's top power play. Not to mention one third period shot on goal for a team that racks up the most per game in th entire league.

Stan Bowman's main moves prior to the trade deadline were for defensive depth, acquiring the likes of Nick Boynton, Danny Richmond, and Jassen Cullimore - guys with NHL experience to be on-call at Rockford. Judging by the first impression of the way Campbell landed, he may have to tap into those resources for at least one, and perhaps two if Kim Johnsson needs some time. Dustin Byfuglien could move there in a pinch, as well. But another issue will be continuing to search for ways to decrease the reliance upon Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook while trying to correct the defensive issues down the stretch. Keith had almost 59 minutes of ice time in those 24 hours, Seabrook 53.

The Hawks are off to some warm weather this week. That alone won't solve things, because it's three games in four nights, and the Ducks, Kings and Coyotes will try to exploit them in similar ways until they show they can deliver again for 60 minutes. Vancouver's also back home after their 8-5-1, 14-game road trip, and might start nipping at their heels for the 2 seed if the Hawks aren't careful. If it comes to that, the Hawks might avoid the much talked-about "18" or "27" matchup, but it certainly wouldn't help erase Hjalmarsson's concern.

Like all slumps that each of us eventually encounters in our various walks of life, part of it is probably mental now. Once the first signs of "uh-oh" pops up, the thing snowballs. That is, until they figure out a formula to stop it. Even though they're a respectable 13-8-5 since that infamous third period, maybe they need that trip to Minnesota to close out this month. Perhaps they'll find some of that mojo that hasn't quite seemed the same since that 5-1 lead after two disapperared in a flash during their last trip there in early January.

In wake of first-round playoff sweep, Patrick Kane talks about the Blackhawks' 'reality check'

In wake of first-round playoff sweep, Patrick Kane talks about the Blackhawks' 'reality check'

It’s been just over a month since the Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs in swift fashion. And as Patrick Kane told WGN Radio on Tuesday morning, the bitter taste hasn’t gone away.

“I think a lot of us didn’t figure we’d be in the situation we’re in right now,” Kane told Steve Cochran and Dave Eanet on Tuesday. “All of us can work this offseason to get better. It’s a long time to wait to get back to that opportunity to play in the playoffs again, so we’ll have a sour taste in our mouth for a while.”

The Nashville Predators, who made quick work of the Blackhawks in the first round, eliminated the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night to earn the first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. Kane told WGN he’s been watching the playoffs and said Nashville “has a pretty good system going.”

“They come at you, they play aggressive. I don’t think any of us would be a big fan of the way they defend in the neutral zone, just sitting back and playing that 1-3-1. But at the same time they come at you,” said Kane, who added that the Blackhawks “weren’t even close in that (first-round) series.”

“Maybe we had a chance in Game 3 when we were up 2-0, but it was a clean sweep and that’s probably how it should’ve been,” he said. “So now it’s time to regroup.”

When the Blackhawks had their wrap-up media session on April 22, general manager Stan Bowman was asked if some players, having won three Stanley Cups since 2010, had lost some of the hunger. Bowman didn’t buy that and neither did Kane.

“Four sounds a lot better than three, right?” he said. “It’s a long time away and a lot of work, but sometimes you go through those situations and you realize you won three Cups and it’s almost like you’re going to be there again. That’s where the reality check is for us now, realizing how hard it is to get back in that situation, how hard it is to win a Cup or go deep in this league. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

On April 22, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman vented his frustrations on the team’s all-too-abrupt exit from the postseason, adding that he and coach Joel Quenneville, “are going to work together to make sure that this never happens again.”

There will be plenty of decisions for the two to mull between now and September, when the Blackhawks convene for training camp. When it comes to the assistant head coach vacancy, however, that might need to be decided with a more one-sided approach. That choice ultimately should be made by Quenneville.

In a recent podcast, Pat Boyle and I discussed the Blackhawks’ need to work together on some upcoming decisions. But with the assistant coach, the head coach has to have the loudest voice. The head coach probably should even have the final vote. The relationship between coaches has to be there because they’re around each other constantly. They’ve got to be on the same page. There has to be trust from Day 1.

As for when the Blackhawks name that assistant, there appears to be nothing imminent. A source said Monday that the Blackhawks and Ulf Samuelsson have been in communication about the job — Chris Kuc of the Tribune first reported on Samuelsson on Sunday. On paper it looks like it would be a great fit. Samuelsson and Quenneville played several seasons together with the Hartford Whalers, along with current Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen. The relationship with Samuelsson has been there for a long time and it would make for a smoother transition. It might also provide somewhat of a panacea for Quenneville after former assistant Mike Kitchen, whose friendship with Quenneville also went back to their playing days, was fired last month.

Earlier this month Bowman told the Sun-Times that Quenneville will have a big role in the Blackhawks’ finding their next assistant coach, with the final choice being a “joint collaboration.” We get that there’s an order to these things and everyone has to be in agreement with the final decision. But in the end the head coach has to be 100-percent happy with his immediate staff. So whoever the next assistant coach is, the decision has to be 100 percent Quenneville’s.