Blackhawks mailbag: Curing the D

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
9:54
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
It’s Mailbag Monday and there are some angry people out there. I can’t imagine what a San Jose blogger doing his mailbag is going through these days. Not pretty! But let’s get to some questions about the Blackhawks:
[+] EnlargeAndrew Ladd
Debora Robinson/NHLI/Getty ImagesAndrew Ladd suggested recently that some players might be tuning out coach Joel Quenneville.
We need to get [Brent Sopel] off the top pairing ASAP, Jesse. He serves his purpose blocking some very tough shots on the penalty kill, but is otherwise showing his colors as a defensive liability against top players. Will the Hawks’ defensive woes be corrected simply with the health of [Brent Seabrook] and [Kim Johnsson]?

Ross (Chicago)

Ross,
Sopel is a temporary replacement on that pairing, so as soon as Tuesday night he’ll probably move back down the ladder. I can’t tell you for sure all their defensive problems will be cured when they get healthy. It’s not like it was perfect before the injuries. Quenneville has not come down that hard on them, if anything, he’s been more critical of his forwards and their defensive mentality. But let’s start with Seabrook and Keith. They need to get back to the lockdown pair they were for much of the first three quarters of the season. If that happens, others will fall into place, in my opinion.

After the Seabrook Massacre, how in the world does Quenneville not put Dustin Byfuglien, Adam Burish, and Ben Eager out on the ice every single time James Wisniewski was on the ice? I know that Coach Q doesn't like to play that type of game, but he referred to the Wisniewski hit as one of the dirtiest hits in the history of the game. If that's the case, then don't you want your tough guys to let the league know that if you come at one of the Hawks, then this team will have some words and hits for you?

Niko (Chicago)

Niko,

If you forced me to agree or disagree with you, I would agree. Maybe not every time he was out there but at least make a point of getting at him one time before the end of the game. Lucky Wiz was out there for the final shift so Boynton could have at him, otherwise it would never have happened. If the Hawks weren’t looking to win the Cup—in other words—if they didn’t have bigger fish to fry then maybe we would have seen some retaliation before the final seconds. It was curious how all that went down. Hey, Burish and Wiz have the same agent so maybe they didn’t want to tangle, or maybe one friendship was already strained and no one wanted to go down that road any more. They’ll get him next year -- maybe.

Should [Byfuglien’s] move to defense be permanent? He looks pretty good back there.

Tim (Chicago)

Tim,

Permanent is a long time, but certainly I would do it until further notice. Kim Johnsson won’t play Tuesday so it would be easy to keep him with Niklas Hjalmarsson another night. Maybe he’s a short- or even long-term spark for that group. He certainly was against the Kings and though not as good against Phoenix, he got the job done. Until he gets exposed—if he doest at all—I would leave him there and I think that’s Quenneville’s plan.

I'm a bit worried about Andrew Ladd's comments that potentially players might be tuning Coach Q out. Do you think that's the case? The defensive problems have been happening long before injuries crept up. I don't think this will happen but do you think that the Hawks might pull what the Devils did several years ago (replaced Ftorek with Larry Robinson late season) and what the Pens did last year (replace Therien with Bylsma) to shake things up? We all know what happened in both instances.

Andrew (New York City)

Andrew,

First of all, unless Scotty Bowman is coming back, (would he? Just kidding) they are not making a coaching change. Let’s not get crazy here. I think Ladd was coming to that conclusion simply based on what’s happening. They keep stressing playing better with the lead and yet they keep giving it up, so hence they aren’t listening. I think they are listening but aren’t following through once the game gets into the latter half. Duncan Keith said it right, you don’t have to try and score every shift. The message when you have the lead is to take what the other team gives you when you can, but protect that puck. We know the forwards don’t always do that and the defense isn’t bailing them out.

If we keep having to shuffle our defensemen around into different roles as far as special teams go, what do you think power play and penalty kill should look like to best use the players we have available?

Johnna (Northbrook)

Johnna,

I’m not sure if you mean when everyone is healthy or not but I do like Byfuglien playing both special teams now that they were down a couple of guys. We’ll see if he stays on the PK with Seabrook returning. The forwards that play the point on the power play are six, half a dozen of each other. Right now Marian Hossa is getting a look on the point as is Dave Bolland but again, that will change when Seabrook and Johnsson return. On the power play, I like Byfuglien on the point with Duncan Keith and then I have no problem with Seabrook and Johnsson with the other unit. Hossa is as good as any forward back there so I’m good with that as well. Not a big fan of Sharp or Bolland on the point for the power play.

Since I am tired of all the negativity in the news, can you share your thoughts on the three most important reasons Blackhawks fans should keep things in perspective. In other words as we approach the end of the regular season, what are the three most important factors that will contribute to the team's success?

Janice (Naperville)

Janice,

First of all, this is a tough spot to judge any elite team. The final two weeks will tell more. I don’t have a huge problem with 4-4-2 since the Olympic break. Now you don’t want to go into a complete tank job like San Jose is doing but the Hawks are hanging in there enough. So reason number one is this isn’t the playoffs. That’s when teams find a new gear and I would think the Hawks will as well. Reason number two would be, even though they are losing some leads, that’s not as bad a formula as coming out and getting whooped from the get-go and trying to fight back. Holding onto leads should be fixable. Then again I’ve been saying that for a month! Reason number three is a good one. Other teams have flaws and/or young goaltenders as well. Yes, Phoenix is on a roll right now and so is Nashville but that could go the other way at any moment. They aren’t perfect teams. In my opinion, Blackhawk flaws can be covered easier and better than most other teams. Now they just have to go out there and do it!

Jesse Rogers | email

Chicago Cubs beat reporter
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26