Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Season's flaws caught up with Hawks
By Jesse Rogers
The Coyotes spent plenty of time in front of Corey Crawford on the power play.
CHICAGO -- When it's all said and done, the Chicago Blackhawks' 4-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday in Game 6 of their Western quarterfinal series told the story of the entire season.
The team that couldn't produce a shutout in 88 games got shut out. The team that ranked second-worst among playoff teams on the power play was 1-for-19 in the series. The team that ranked second worst on the penalty kill gave up four goals on 19 opportunities to the only power play worse than their own.
The Hawks played the series like they played the regular season -- and still they had a chance to win it. They only realized it after it was too late. Inundating Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith was a great plan that should have been executed earlier.
Smith finally stole a game and he did on a night when the Hawks had their best chances. Twenty eight to eight were the shots on net after two periods and yet the Hawks still trailed 1-0.
"Special teams is big," Patrick Sharp said in a down locker room after the season-ending loss. "We talk about that all the time. I thought we played well the first two periods then they score on the power play and we're chasing from behind."
Special teams and goaltending. They're the great equalizers in hockey for a reason. They were in this series just as they were all season.
"It's frustrating," Jonathan Toews said of the power play. "A lot of skill out there and we couldn't get it done. It was kind of that way all season and we can't just come into the playoffs and expect to turn on the switch."
Isn't that exactly what everyone was hoping would happen?
That after 82 games, a penalty kill ranked 27th would reverse course, or a power play ranked 26th would find its legs? Or a goaltender with the worst save percentage and second worst goals against average coming into the playoffs -- and without a shutout all year -- would revert to last postseason's form.
"It wasn't very good tonight," Quenneville reiterated about the power play. "We just didn't find those loose pucks or the loose rebounds. They evaded us. Tonight was noticeable."
Not just Monday but most nights throughout the season. All that money tied up in Hawks forwards and top defensemen and they produce one power-play goal.
But as inexplicable as the power play is there are plenty of obvious reasons the Hawks penalty kill was even worse.
"I thought our penalty kill did a good job in the series," Quenneville said.
If by a good job, he meant it only helped to lose two of four games than it did a fantastic job. Oliver Ekkman-Larsson's shot from the point got by Corey Crawford with Martin Hanzal screening early on in the second
period for the winning goal. Substitute Larsson and Hanzal for many other opponents this season and leave the description of the goal the same. Other than for a short period at the end of the Hawks' nine-game losing streak the penalty killing was atrocious.
"It's hard to think about right now, I'm trying to think about most of our (penalty kills)," Crawford said. "For the most part we were pretty good."
Chalk that up to the moments after a game when a player is exasperated. The Hawks goalie has every right to be mad at the missed blocked shots and the players -- like Hanzal -- standing in his way during opponent's power plays. Not just in a couple games of this series but for all season.
But Crawford is hardly absolved. He was given yet another light night of work, but when the game was on the line he still came up short. Add the two soft goals to lose Games 3 and 4 and Crawford will be under the microscope all summer. Especially when juxtaposed against Smith, who was as outstanding as advertised.
They say the playoffs come down to special teams and goaltending.
Why should anyone be surprised the Hawks are going home early for the summer?