Defensive mistakes keep Hawks in skid
February, 8, 2012
By Jesse Rogers | ESPNChicago.com
If this is focusing on defense, then the Chicago Blackhawks need to learn what focusing means.
Yet another poor attempt to keep the puck out of the Hawks’ net resulted in a 5-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.
The story of this game was odd-man rushes. The Avalanche produced them in bunches. They came off turnovers, off penalty kills and in just about any other way a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 can develop. It was that ugly.
“I don’t know what to say at this point,” Jonathan Toews told reporters after the game. “It sucks. It’s not like we’re enjoying this. We’re trying to fix the problem. No one is running away from it. We can’t hide from these problems. We have to face them and deal with them and do it as a team.”
Toews was talking about the team’s defensive woes, of course. The Hawks have given up 19 goals in the first four games of their nine-game road trip. They’ve lost all four.
“Sometimes we got caught two guys going to the same guy in the offensive zone and there we go, we have an odd man rush the other way,” he said.
Toews turned one puck over as did Viktor Stalberg. Then Duncan Keith fumbled a puck into another giveaway. All resulted in goals for Colorado.
AP Photo/Jack DempseyColorado's Peter Muelle takes a shot against Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews.
“It seems like any little mistake is costing us right now,” Keith said. “That’s kind of the way it goes when you’re on a losing streak.”
Keith was on the ice for four goals against and he and Brent Seabrook once again had their issues. Seabrook seemed to make wrong or late decisions while Keith simply couldn’t kill a play headed to the Hawks net.
“When you get in these losing streaks it can be mental and play games on your mind,” Keith said. “You’re thinking ‘What can you do, what can you do.’ The best thing is to work hard and simplify things.”
The Hawks have been saying these things for weeks, even months, and nothing is changing. An erosion of confidence has to be taking place, although they continue to stick together in the worst of times. There are still five games left on the road trip.
“We have to find a way to win a game to get some form of confidence back in ourselves and our team game,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Even a struggling team like Colorado can look like a playoff-bound team against the Hawks. The Avalanche hadn’t scored more than two goals in five previous contests. They got to three in less than 41 minutes on Tuesday.
The scary part of this whole ordeal is the Hawks are well aware of their problems but seem unable to fix them. Or worse yet, unwilling. At some point Quenneville will have to try some drastic changes.
He moved Nick Leddy down to the third defensive pair while Sean O'Donnell skated with Niklas Hjalmarsson, but it affected the outcome very little. Again, no one or two defensemen are at fault, but the Hawks’ main men on the blue line simply continue to be on the ice for too many goals against. Adding four more to Keith’s total makes it 12 of 19 goals against on the road trip so far.
But the mistakes aren’t limited to the defensemen, whose faults have been well documented. Turnovers by forwards were plentiful and painful on Tuesday.
“It’s disappointing,” Quenneville said of the turnovers. “Especially this team off the rush.”
Still seven points ahead of the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference, the Hawks shouldn’t have to worry about making the playoffs. But with five more road games on this trip and considering the manner in which they are dropping them, anything is possible. Something better change, and fast, or the highest of hopes for the year might be derailed.
The Hawks showed no signs of coming out of their funk on Tuesday.
“It’s past the point where we have to get a win,” Keith stated. “It’s a tight game and all of sudden some plays happen where it’s in the back of our net.”
That’s not just the story of the game, but the story of the year.