Hawks take responsibility entering stretch run


Hawks take responsibility entering stretch run

The trade deadline has passed. The opportunity to add, alter, change, spruce up, whatever you want to call it, is over.

Now the Chicago Blackhawks have to focus on the big task: snap another losing streak, play as a collective unit and finish strong.

The Blackhawks have 18 regular-season games remaining, 18 games left to make a strong push and secure a playoff spot. After an up-and-down month with more downs than ups, the Blackhawks are perilously close to dropping out of the top eight altogether. They enter Wednesday nights game in sixth place in the West, and the three teams trailing them (San Jose, Dallas and Colorado) are within three points of catching them.

Their schedule is a tough one: two more games against division foes the Blues, Red Wings and Predators each. Theyll see the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars again, too.

It wont be easy, especially with Jonathan Toews, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador still sidelined. But the Blackhawks know its up to them.

To be honest with you its all on us now, Patrick Kane said. (Management) has done everything they can to put a good team on the ice, be it offseason and the trade deadline. The coaches are doing a fine job and were happy with our team in here. For sure, the onus is on the players now to get it done ourselves.

Viktor Stalberg said its been a trying time.

Its frustrating times but the only way to get out of it is to work hard, play simple hockey and the bounces will go our way, he said. Were in a tough spot. Were fighting for those playoff spots and we have to compete every night. Injuries make it tougher on a couple of guys. Hopefully we get these guys back here soon.

Yes, the Blackhawks are missing their injured teammates. Theres no denying Toewss absence, especially, leaves a hole. But every team has injuries, every team loses key players. The Pittsburgh Penguins made the playoffs despite missing Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for months last season. The Dallas Stars have gone on their recent push to the top eight without Brenden Morrow and Jamie Benn.

The Blackhawks still have a deep enough roster to do this. Add some confidence, bring back the team-first attitude, and it can be done.

Its the stretch drive; its going to be very competitive and going to be extremely tight, coach Joel Quenneville said. We lost the nice position we were in a month ago. Its evaporated and we have to come together here quickly and push and help each other.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

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

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”