The Hawks got 2 points last night. That’s the only positive thing I will say about the game. Sure there probably were more positives than that, but honestly the “W” just masks what last night’s game really was: pathetic, and from now on I’m calling things as I see them.
The Hawks gave up 40 shots and 4 goals to the lowest scoring team in the NHL, a team that won’t even come close to the playoffs, a team that is the Eastern Conference bottom’feeder, a team that gets its ass kicked most nights by teams with the Hawks’ talent. And the Hawks had to go all the way to a shootout to get the victory.
That is absolutely unacceptable.
This game really reinforces what I’ve been saying about the Hawks the last few weeks. Their game-plan isn’t a “defense first” strategy. And even if it is, they’re not executing it properly. Not even close. Instead the Hawks are just trying to outscore their opponents, but they are giving up plenty of goals and chances in the process. You may win games with this tactic, but you won’t win championships. You won’t even get to the finals.
During the game last night I was talking with our friend Tim over at CheertheAnthem via Twitter and he made a great point. The problems with this team aren’t just with one area. Its not just goaltending, its not just defense, its not just scoring problems. The problems are not isolated, they are systemic. We can no longer call it a slump they are in. The issues with this team are structural.
Who’s to blame? Well for starters you can blame the players, who continue to execute poorly. The Hawks seem incapable of mustering a complete effort. This all comes down to the the willingness to outwork your opponent. The Hawks are relying far, far too much on their talent to get them through games. But talent alone will only get you so far. Look no further than the struggles of the Washington Capitals over the last few years, or look at last year’s Stanley Cup Finals to see examples of this. My high school basketball coach always said: on most nights, the team that works harder will beat the team with more talent. Look at teams like Nashville and Phoenix, who don’t have nearly as much talent as the Hawks do, but they play a very specific system that revolves around hard work and defense and look at how successful they’ve been.
So the players are definitely part of the problem, I’m not excusing them of responsibility. They ultimately control what happens on the ice and right now they’re not working hard enough and they’re worried too much about scoring goals and too little about defense. Then they end up getting down a goal or two and as a result, have to manufacture more offense at the expense of defense.
Here’s wherre you have lay some blame at the feet of the coaching staff for not making the necessary adjustments, especially on the special teams units. Theres probably no better example of this than the penalty kill, which is dead last in the league and 2% worse than Columbus (ouch). At this point its no longer just on the players or the goalie, its also on whoever is running the penalty kill. Watch the best penalty killing units in the league, all of them make it difficult for the opposition to enter the zone, they get out aggressively to the point to block shots and pressure the puck carrier while maintaining good overall defensive positioning. The Hawks’ PK is much, much too passive and allows way too much unchallenged puck movement. This leads to a high number of shots on net and scoring chances, which leads to a high number of goals, hence the 30th place kill.
Again, you can’t only blame the players for that. Yes Corey Crawford certainly needs to take some blame, as do the defenseman for not making it difficult for the opposition to stand in front of the net and the forwards for not getting in shooting and passing lanes. But the coaching staff has to take the blame for not accepting the fact that their PK strategy isn’t working and recognizing that adjustments need to be made.
This applies to their 5-on-5 play as well. While you can argue its the job of the players to execute, you can also argue that its the job of the coach to create and implement a successful system. It’s okay to play a run ‘n gun style but when you surrender goals like the Hawks are, maybe its time augment the system a little bit to be more defensive-minded.
The struggles of the players alone do not entirely account for all the problems with this team. As I said, the problems are structural and systemic and everyone deserves blame, including the coaches. And if they have made the adjustments and the players are simply failing to execute, then its the onus of the management to make decisive changes.
I don’t care where the Hawks are in the standings. Quite frankly they’re lucky to be where they are considering how they’ve played the last few weeks. They will not beat the tougher opponents the way they’re playing. I’ll reiterate my comments from after the Phoenix game: major changes must be made and they need to be made soon. I’m not calling for anyone’s job (yet) but I’m not just talking about switching players around. I’m talking about some substantial personnel changes and alterations to their team system.
Everyone is suggesting that the Hawks need something different. Some say they need a big, shutdown defenseman, others say they need a puck-mover, a top six power forward, a bottom six grinder, a new goalie etc. I will go ahead and argue that they need all of them and more. I will argue that multiple changes need to be made on defense and throughout the forward lineup and that the Hawks should look into trading for a goalie that can challenge Crawford for starting time.
I apologize for the long post. Here are some quick points on the game last night:
- Both the defense the Crawford deserve blame for last night. I’ll say it again: the problems are not isolated, they work together. When one struggles, the other struggles. I’m sure once the defense tightens up, the goaltending will too and vice versa.
- I didn’t mind Marcus Kruger as the second line center last night. He made some good plays in both zones and his line had some chances. But the point is, they failed to generate, and like I said in my post yesterday: the Hawks can’t afford to “try things” out for more than a few games. They need results.
- Its time for the Hawks to part ways with Niklas Hjalmarsson. I’m done defending him. Every game he seems to get worse. His mind-set and confidence are obviously not in a good place and he could really benefit from a change of scenery.
- Its nice to see some the lower lines score a couple of goals.Beautiful play by Carcillo and O’Donnell to set up Brunette’s goal and great job by Ben Smith getting a dirty goal right in front of the net.
- Jonathan Toews should start getting some Hart trophy talk.
The Hawks take on the Blues tonight at 7:00 CT. Myself or Stan will be back tomorrow with some thoughts and comments. Enjoy the game. Go Hawks!
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