September Hockey: Thoughts about Turco, Keith, and the Hawks

See? no meshing.

As I watched the Hawks game against Washington last night, something clicked in my head, and I decided Marty Turco can be partly exonerated for his performance last year.

Let’s jump back to the practice game against the Penguins Thursday. Here’s what struck me most forcefully about the Hawks’ style in that game. The defensemen were not collecting pucks behind the net. Rather, the goalie was collecting the puck and distributing it to one corner or the other, where the defensemen took up station.

As a consequence, the break-outs were hotly contested by forecheckers, the Hawks struggled to move the puck smoothly out of their own end, and it was all they could do to battle the puck to center ice and dump it deep.

Last night against Washington, the Hawk defensemen were much more active in collecting pucks themselves, reducing the dependence on goalies’ stickwork. Coming from behind the net with heads up, the defensemen enabled the Hawks to deny deep forechecking, creating space in their own end to move the puck easily to center ice, from where an actual offensive attack could develop.

Now, you could point out that the Capitals are not the Penguins, and you would have an excellent point. But this does not account for the Hawks’ defensemen’s failure to collect the puck against Pittsburgh in the first place. For that, the fact that Shawn Lalonde is not Duncan Keith is more germane.

If you had a chance to see the last two games, I hope you were able to see the impact that Keith almost always has on games. Thursday’s game was the first Hawks game I’ve seen in a couple years where Keith didn’t play (a rarity), and it may have been the most lopsided, in terms of which end of the ice battles were fought, during that span. This is not a coincidence. Last night was more like we’ve become accustomed to.

What does this have to do with Turco?

The point is, the Hawks system over the past few years has been geared toward a stay-at-home goalie, predicated on the speed and puck-handling of Keith and Brian Campbell. Antti Niemi, for example, was cautious and shaky straying from the net, so he mostly didn’t, which was just fine. Same with Corey Crawford last year.

What Marty Turco brought to the table in terms of a “third defenseman” directly conflicts with the style the Hawks play. To anyone watching those games last year, the dissonance between Turco and Keith was obvious.

In another system, Turco’s talents are assets, but for the Hawks, they were counterproductive.

Other observations after a couple pre-season games

On defense, Nick Leddy was the one player Thursday night with the speed to neutralize the Penguin forecheck. He’ll  make his share of mistakes, but I remain optimistic he’ll be able to soften the impact of losing Campbell.

Dylan Olsen looked good last night- very encouraging.

Again with the “blind icing” from Niklas Hjalmarsson. Get it together, Nick.

My view of Steve Montador is holding at top-end 3rd pairing, kinda “Sopel+”, quicker, maybe more O, but maybe not quite the PKer.

As for forwards, Brandon Saad has to get nine NHL games this year, right?

Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger didn’t look particularly like they were battling for roster spots last night.

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