After two straight wins two weeks ago against the formidable Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins in what looked like a cure for lackluster play afflicting their 2014, it seems like our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have yet again tripped and fallen into a slump of sub-par performances; going 0-2-1 against three very beatable opponents in their past three games.
The good news is the Hawks are just as angry and full of angst as their fans. You know it’s bad when usually stoic captain Jonathan Toews sounds off, stating “we need to get rid of these bad habits and get rid of them fast.” The coaching staff apparently agrees with Towes, making a roster move long-awaited by many Hawks fans by recalling Brandon Pirri from the Rockford IcesHogs in the wake of the curiously healthy scratch of Bryan Bickell during last night’s game. So it’ll be interesting to see what line-ups will be hitting the ice for the Hawks when they travel to Calgary tomorrow evening to take on the Flames.
Dwelling on the aforementioned “bad habits” Captain Serious referenced, the last two losses the Hawks suffered at the hands of the Minnesota Wild and the Winnipeg Jets highlight a bad habit of the Blackhawks that as the season has progressed has become increasingly glaring. First take a moment to process these stats: against the Hawks, Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper made 33 saves and posted a .971 SV% and Jets goalie Al Montoya put up 34 saves with a .971 SV% as well. Notice a commonality? Suffice it to say both these goalies had career nights.
Playing against hot goalies is an inevitability in the NHL, and well hockey in general. However for the Blackhawks this season, this occurrence has developed into somewhat of an Achilles heel. More often than not this year, when the Hawks have come across a goalie that is playing lights out against them, i.e. Semyon Varlamov and Kari Lehtonen, their many talented forwards become so obsessed with cracking the conundrum between the pipes that their composure suffers. They start getting sloppy, especially in the defensive zone, and allow their opponents to capitalize on the few opportunities they’re given, to the Hawks’ great detriment.
Beating a goalie that’s standing on his head in a game isn’t an easy problem to solve, but it is solvable, and the Hawks have solved it before. In the Western Conference Finals last year during the post season, the Blackhawks squared off against arguably one of the best net-minders in the league: Jonathan Quick. You know how the story ended: Hawks won the series 4-1, and they did it by playing to the law of averages; peppering Quick with pucks constantly, consistently and thoroughly, and in the end, they got past the all-star keeper because of sheer shot volume.
Obviously the Hawks don’t have the benefit of a best of seven series to figure out how to beat a hot goaltender during regular season play, so when throwing tons of rubber at the net isn’t yielding results, the Hawks need to change strategy from working hard to working smart, and do it faster.
I’m no offensive guru, and as I mentioned earlier getting past a goalie having a great night is easier said than done, but when the Hawks forwards’ pretty passes and pretty shots aren’t getting the job done, there are alternatives. The quickest and easiest one is to get in the goalie’s grill, literally. The Hawks need a forward camping out on the crease, early and often and getting in the keeper’s face, i.e. trash talking and even giving him a bit of business when the ref’s not looking to prevent him from finding his groove and ideal state of mind (i.e. Andrew Shaw having some choice words with Tuukka Rask on the blue paint). In other words the Hawks forwards need to get under the keeper’s skin before he can get under theirs.
Another way to deal with a goaltender having a dynamite night is to try to make him unlucky. What I mean here is scoring goals via deflections and redirections, which are pucks the keeper can’t get a good look at by their very nature. As we all know, redirected goals occur the most when they ricochet off bodies/sticks clogging up the crease after they are shot from the blue line. We all know at least five out of six of the Blackhawks defensemen can tee it up from the point and light the lamp. They need to do this even more than they already are to begin with if we’re being honest here, but it’s all the more critical the Hawks D take more shots when the opposing goaltender is putting up impressive numbers during a game. Yes, counting on redirected shots to score goals is more of a crap shoot, but the dividends they pay are worth it because it robs the goalie of his sense of control which will keep him off kilter.
Let’s get things straight here; the Blackhawks are the reigning Stanley Cup champions for a reason: they’ve learned how to overcome adversity. Which is good, because they’re about to embark on a six game road-trip chalk full of adversity as they tour the Pacific Division (but more on that in a later post). The first part of solving a problem is realizing there is one, and the Blackhawks have already done that. As Hawks fans, we know they may not always do it the easy way, but our Blackhawks can get the job done.
FOR THE DAGGER!