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Work first. Skill second.
That was the message from Joel Quenneville to his players as the Chicago Blackhawks spent Thursday off the ice and in individual meetings with the coaches.
“It’s been healthy and productive conversations with the guys,” Quenneville said. “Coming out of [Wednesday] night’s game, there was a lot of frustration, disappointment, but lot of positives in our team game that we can build upon.”
The meetings were scheduled but may have been pushed up considering the Hawks' poor play of late; they’ve dropped five of seven overall and seven of 11 at home this season.
It might be a cliché but “trying to do too much” is at the top of the list of the team's problems, according to Quenneville. At least it is for the veteran stars.
“Pretty plays get you in trouble, whether killing plays in the offensive slot or trying to make the perfect pass,” he said. “When we just got pucks to the net, traffic at the net, we had a lot of momentum off that. That’s what made us effective. Cute plays, pretty plays, generally lead to either kill plays or you’re going to be defending off it. We have been guilty of being either too fancy or too cute too many times.
“We definitely are guilty of being prettier, cuter, or fancier at home. They are all the same terms.”
Players, fans and media won’t be able to fall back on the team's injury woes as an excuse anymore -- at least not for Saturday’s game in Nashville. With the return of Dave Bolland from injured reserve, the Blackhawks will have their full complement of players for the first time this season.
“It does get tough out there a little bit with the chemistry,” Bolland said. “To now have everybody back is good.”
Bolland will center the line with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. Those wingers played together Wednesday night -- at least for the first two periods. Quenneville will stick with the changes he made before Wednesday’s loss, citing a dominant first period as evidence they might be the right combinations.
“We’ll stick with the D pairings likely moving forward to the next game. The numbers were more manageable,” he said.
Quenneville is referring to the playing time amongst his six blue-liners. In the first period alone, no defensemen played more than 6:57 or less than 6:26. For the game, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook played less than 21 minutes each, far below their season average. Of course, Keith’s reduced minutes came, in part, due to a second-period benching.
Keith and Seabrook were split up as a pair for one of the few times since Quenneville took over as coach. In the end, the Hawks only gave up two goals with even distribution in playing time, so maybe the changes did work.
So the message has been sent in several ways. First, a star gets benched and then the Hawks hold individual meetings with one simple principle stressed over all others:
Work first, skill second.
At 8-9-1, it might be good to add one more: win now.
Boynton Stuck on an island: In the loss to Phoenix on Wednesday, Nick Boynton was left alone to defend consecutive 2-on-1s after Keith was caught up-ice. The Coyotes scored on both of them in a span of 35 seconds.
“You can hopefully stop one of them but it just didn’t go our way,” Boynton said Thursday. “On the second one the guy [Eric Belanger] made a real nice shot. Nine times out of ten he probably doesn’t make that shot but he just happened to last [Wednesday] night.”
The Hammer: Niklas Hjalmarsson continues a slow start to his season. His minus-8 is worst among defensemen but most of that was achieved while Brian Campbell was out of the lineup. But after signing a megadeal in the offseason, Hjalmarsson talked of providing more offense. He has yet to record a point in 16 games. His 292 minutes of ice time is the most in the entire league of any player without a point. However, Joel Quenneville is seeing positive signs.
“I thought he played his best game last [Wednesday] night,” Quenneville said. “He’s trending in a positive direction. We measure his play first and foremost on his defense. He can defend extremely well with how he’s containing our zone. Off that if he gets points, that’s the bonus.”