Honestly, I didn’t see this coming. I did not see the Hawks being down 3-1 to the Phoenix Coyotes. 2-1 was conceivable but I figured the Hawks would rally like they had in the past, led by the leadership and scoring of their talented and experience “core”. While its still a possibility, the likelihood of the Hawks making to Round 2 dropped astronomically last night. I don’t want to get into the odds but they’re not good.
Exactly how are the Hawks in this predicament?
Well its pretty simple really. The Coyotes are exposing every possible weakness the Hawks have shown over the course of the year: soft goaltending, a broken powerplay, weak defensive zone coverage, overall inconsistency on offense. The Coyotes have exploited these issues at precisely the right times. Add to that the fact that Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg have not made a serious impact whatsoever and you have a Coyotes lead 3-1.
Its important to remember that each of the 3 lost games was winnable (they all were in OT) so its not as if the Hawks have been destroyed by the Coyotes. It could easily 2-2 or even 3-1 Hawks. That’s how close the series has been, at least on the scoreboard.
But then again, the fact that the Hawks were trailing late in three of the four games and had to score late goals to get games to OT speaks volumes about their inability to get the job done in regulation. For the majority of the series the Coyotes have outworked the Hawks in every possible way.
More importantly, as mentioned above, the Coyotes are making the Hawks pay for every single mistake, whether its in the form of a goal or a scoring chance. The Hawks have not been able to reciprocate this.
The Hawks are no longer getting offense from their top 2 lines, those same lines that were instrumental in carrying them to the playoffs late in the season. As coaches often say: “to win, you need your best players to be your best players”. Phoenix’s are. Chicago’s are not.
So that’s the situation we’re in. It was probably unwise to underestimate Phoenix as much as I (and many others) did. Or perhaps we overestimated the Hawks. Maybe both. Regardless, the Hawks are up against the wall, again, and need to win 3 straight to advance (better than 4 I guess)
I’m not writing off the Hawks just yet. 3-1 is doable, difficult but doable. They came back from 3-0 to force Game 7 last year, so anything is possible, however unlikely.
But the if the signs from Games 1 through 4 are any indictation, I wouldn’t expect any victories without major improvements in a number of key areas, mainly defensive zone coverage, powerplay, goaltending and the play of the stars.
The Hawks zone coverage has been so bad this series its making the Coyotes look like an All-Star team. The Coyotes are cycling the puck with way too much ease and are given open ice to generate scoring chances. Too much pressure, too many wide open opportunities. That needs to improve.
The powerplay has been predictably awful and has prevented the Hawks from getting or expanding leads. Moreover, as Q puts it, it has been a serious momentum killer and plays into the hands of the Coyotes, who kill penalties effectively. That needs to improve.
Corey Crawford has given up at least one soft goal in each game. Considering the fact that each game has gone to OT, that means it has been the difference between a 3-1 deficit and potentially a 4-0 Hawks sweep. That needs to improve.
Lastly, Toews, Kane, Sharp and Stalberg have to start producing. With Hossa now out for lord knows how long, these four players must step up their game and put pucks in the net. Yes the Coyotes system is suffocating them. But these are some of the best players in the world. They need to find a way or their season is over. Period.
If these areas don’t improve starting next game, summer starts early, again. As I said, I’m not writing them off, but their struggles in these areas keep me from thinking they can successfully pull it off. But anything can happen. Thats why they play the games. They will have to draw on their experience with Vancouver last year.
Now I do want to put this out there. While I want to reserve the offseason questions until the Hawks are actually eliminated from the playoffs, this year’s knock-out could have far more reaching implications that last year’s, where everyone more or less was given a “get out of jail free card” because they were coming off a Stanley Cup championship. This year I would have to imagine Rocky will not be pleased if the Hawks don’t see the second round for the second straight year.
I would imagine management and coaching would be victims of scrunity. I would certainly imagine that the prized “core” players, who have failed to produce significantly thus far in the post-season, would be criticized as well. Goaltending would be certainly the subject of controversy, as would the defense. There’s a lot of questions about this team and potentially a long summer to talk about them.
But let’s save those questions until later. At least for now.
Thanks for reading.