- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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They’ve scored early and they’ve scored some very late -- but not much has happened through the middle portion of games. This is no coincidence.
The Hawks are failing to listen to their coach -- at least for more than 20-30 minutes -- and it’s about to knock them out of the playoffs.
Patience is what Joel Quenneville has been preaching, and while they’ve gone about their business the correct way to start games, that patience has slowly turned into frustration and that’s what Phoenix has been capitalizing on.
“They’re a patient team,” Duncan Keith said Friday before the Hawks departed for Phoenix and Game 5. “You can give them some credit in that aspect. They wait around and wait for a mistake.”
Putting the puck on net is the most important aspect of staying patient. Shoot instead of skate.
“The more we throw at Smith, the more we get in front of him and get ugly goals, whether it goes in off a shin pad or off a stick, that’s what we need,” Keith said.
And that’s exactly what the Hawks' top players are getting away from. The reason Bryan Bickell, Brendan Morrison, Brandon Bollig and even Michael Frolik have scored in the series is simply because they are putting shots on net whenever they get the chance. The first three players in that group don’t have moves to go around the defense. But the Hawks' stars have those moves and think -- after failing to score with early shots -- they can twist and turn and spin their way to scoring. It only leads to trouble. It’s playing right into the hands of the Coyotes.
“It’s something we’ve been stressing a lot in this series,” Quenneville said. “We need more shots, we need more traffic. Trying to score on second opportunities is what we’re looking for. They’re playing tight on those guys. They’re focusing on our top guys. I just think recognizing when there’s time to get it behind them and get it at the net is what we have to look for.”
You need proof of a decline as the game goes on? How about scoring first in each of the first three games while also dominating the action early on in Game 4 despite not getting a goal?
Then things dried up because the star players stopped shooting. Game 4 was a perfect example. Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg -- to name some of the Hawks top goal scorers --were peppering Smith with shots, but when none got by him, they stopped shooting and tried skating. Kane’s last shot on goal came with 17:52 left in the second period. Sharp’s last one came with 7:39 left in the middle period. And Toews went from 11:55 left in the first -- when he had a great attempt -- to late in the third (3:17 left) between shots on net.
Start out well, get stymied by a good goaltender, then get away from the game plan. The Hawks have been fortunate to mount a frenzied comeback in three of four games to force overtime but once again that’s not a winning formula.
“I think we’ve had good starts in all four games,” Quenneville said. “When we had to come back we came back. In second parts or second periods we seem to lose that momentum. … Sustaining it, you have to have that mentality or that patience is going to be ok in a game or series like this. We still want urgency but then again we want to make sure there is a purpose behind it.”
The statements Quenneville is making are the keys to the whole series. The Hawks have more talent almost everywhere but in goal. Instead of outshooting Phoenix 32-19 as they did in Game 4, they need to make it 42 or 52 to 19. Whatever it takes to get some pucks by Smith. They have the talent to do so. As evidenced by the starts to these games, the Hawks can overwhelm the Coyotes in the offensive zone -- but they have to do it for 60 minutes. Just because Smith isn’t giving up an easy ones early on doesn’t mean he won’t later or won’t give up some rebounds. It’s a game of percentages. The better the goalie, the more shots you have to hit him with.
“The answer is the same as it’s been all series,” Sharp said. “You look at all the goals we’ve scored, its bodies at the net, deflections, screens. Ugly goals. That’s how we have to be to be successful against them.”
Bickell, Morrison and Marcus Kruger had more shots on net than Sharp, Kane or Toews. That tells the story right there. And that includes power-play time for the latter three and very few for the former. The core guys have one more chance to prove they can stick with the program for more than half a game.
“Our top guys have to be better for us to be successful going forward,” Quenneville said. “We need them to be our best players for sure.”
It starts with shooting the puck. Simple as that.
The Blackhawks simply need to be more aggressive in Game 5.