Monday, March 26, 2012
Losses won't necessarily hurt Hawks
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO -- If you’re a diehard Chicago Blackhawks fan, the scenario must have run through your mind not long after the suspension of defenseman Duncan Keith was announced.
You wanted a glass half-full thought about the Hawks in a down moment and so here it was: The most fatigued Hawk over the last few seasons is getting five games off right before the playoffs.
His return with two games remaining in the regular season could very well coincide with the much anticipated return of captain Jonathan Toews from a concussion -- that is, if Toews doesn’t experience any more setbacks. If nothing else, Toews will have fresh legs for the potential two-month postseason.
In the meantime, thanks to a great run by the Hawks without Toews, the No. 4-6 seeds in the Western Conference have tightened up. But you don’t want the Hawks to earn the No. 5 or even the No. 4 seed, because it means playing Nashville or Detroit. The No. 6 seed -- whoever it is -- will play the No. 3 seed. That spot is on track to be occupied by the Pacific Division winner. It’s looking more and more like the No. 3 seed will have less points than seeds 4-6 making it a favorable matchup for that No .6 seed.
When Jonathan Toews returns, it could give the Hawks a spark at playoff time.
So playing without Toews and Keith might hurt the Hawks in the win column but place them exactly where most fans might want them to be.
“That’s for you guys to do,” Jamal Mayers said Monday after considering that scenario. “That’s the fun part of what you get to do, making speculations. We want to be playing our best hockey heading into the playoffs. Trying to adjust our playoff position by playing poorly is a recipe for disaster.”
He’s probably not wrong, but then consider it all a silver lining. The only problem is it means the No. 6 seed, though it might own more points, will open up on the road against an inferior No. 3 seed.
“It’s a little a strange,” Nick Leddy said. “It’s just how the league is put together and we’ll abide by it.”
What’s strange is that the No. 3 seed in each conference has less points than the 4-6 seeds. How would you like to face Florida (No. 3) instead of Pittsburgh (No. 4) or Philadelphia (No. 5)? This will all change if/when realignment takes place but, for now, the No.6 seed is the most desirable in both conferences -- at least on paper.
“I don’t think it matters where we’re positioned to be honest with you,” Keith said. “Any team we play is going to be a battle. Any team in that [Pacific] Division, they’re all good teams. If we stay in that [No.] 6 position and play one of those teams, it would be tough. We’re just focused on one game at a time.”
It’s simply not in a player’s or coach’s demeanor to think differently, but as Mayers said, it doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t. Anyone that believes playing Nashville -- even with home ice advantage -- is more favorable than facing Dallas or Phoenix hasn’t been watching games closely.
“I don’t really look too much at that stuff,” Leddy said. “We hear about the standings almost every day and we talk about it. We want to jump up as far as we can.”
Keith spent the first game of his five-game suspension on Sunday watching from the Hawks dressing room. He plans to watch Game No. 2 from home on Tuesday. He says he’s increasing his workouts since he won’t be playing in any games.
“A little bit more than I would be,” he said. “It is the end of March here so I’m in pretty good shape right now. It’s just a matter of maintaining.”
Patrick Kane has struggled in the faceoff circle over the last two games, winning just seven of 33 draws. At one point on Sunday, Mayers started taking faceoffs on his line.
“I’m working on it,” Kane said. “I’m not taking them on power plays. I know I have to be better there.”
Toews caused a stir for the crowd at Johnny’s IceHouse on Monday when he lined up at left wing with Kane at center and Marian Hossa on the other side. Andrew Brunette had the day off so Toews was just filing in.
“I don’t think when Tazer comes back I’ll be centering him,” Kane joked. “Fun seeing him out there.”