Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
By Chris Boden
Go up and down the Blackhawks' lineup, Friday and Sunday. Every player played better than they had over the previous week. The proof is now out there, on tape, for how good this team is capable of being, and that's without Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Viktor Stalberg. Now, it's all about doing that for every game, and not just talking about doing it. If they do, this team will be just fine.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook came into the weekend against the Wings and Kings a combined minus-14. They were a combined plus-6 in the two victories. Jonathan Toews had three more points to give him 13 over his last nine games. Bryan Bickell has been answering the call with eight points over his last seven. Troy Brouwer - who had one goal in his first 21 games came into WingsKings with eight over his previous dozen. He may not have collected a point, but was a plus-3, dished out 11 hits and was a disrupting influence in front of Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick. Matter of fact, the Hawks as a whole played with a chip on their shoulder - 34 hits Friday and another 35 Sunday. They sacrificed - 24 blocked shots Friday, and 22 Sunday. They were smart - facing one short-handed situation all weekend. When you're penalty-kill is struggling, that helps. That PK should get an assist with the return of Fernando Pisani, the arrival of Ryan Johnson, and the level-raising play of Dave Bolland lately, offensively too.
Encouraging signs, but Joel Quenneville wasn't ready to declare anything after the win over L.A. He's seen signs before, only to see lapses follow. It's about high-level consistency, which has eluded just about every team around the league heading into the holidays. The competition and balance is stiff, as any day-by-day glance at the conference standings will show you. A couple of flat efforts has teams scrambling to recover, and no matter how they play from this point on - some earlier missed opportunities will already force the Hawks to scramble once the games-played numbers even out. We asked the head coach before Sunday's game whether Friday was the team's best 60-minute effort of the season, and said it probably came down to that one and the 7-1 victory in Vancouver. He's been preaching during his three years it's all about defensive effort, responsibility and execution. That's what we saw this weekend, along with some wonderful goaltending from Corey Crawford.
Maybe the Hawks started this thing a little earlier, and just can't beat Colorado. They played a good road game in the overtime loss in San Jose before the loose, off-to-the-races defeat in Denver and the third period double minor in the rematch last Wednesday. Prior to those three, they'd won five of six.
Between the roster turnover, the short summer, wearing the "target," and the health challenges, we knew this wasn't going to be easy. But now, even without a couple of marquee names, they've shown what they're capable of doing. That level now needs to be sustained, especially before Baby New Year crawls in. They're 4-4-1 against the Central, with Nashville, Columbus and St. Louis up next. They're 0-1-1 against Antti Niemi and the Sharks, then reach the season's halfway point at Anaheim and Los Angeles right after the New Year.
As Quenneville said at the team's annual holiday family skate Monday morning at the United Center, Santa was very good and came through with his request a year ago. Is it greedy to ask for the same, expensive gift this year? At this rate, he'll probably accept efforts and execution like he saw this weekend on a game-by-game basis. That, and a healthy New Year, is probably enough for him to take his chances on whether it's a gift they're given again.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.