<
>

Weak PP at the heart of Hawks' struggles

2/16/2012

NEW YORK -- During their current nine-game losing streak, there is one aspect of Chicago Blackhawks play that can’t be pinned on general manager Stan Bowman nor goalies Corey Crawford or Ray Emery.

Even head coach Joel Quenneville and his assistants are absolved of a lot of blame for this one.

The Hawks' power play is dreadful at the moment and that is simply on the core players. Like everything else since the All-Star break, the power play has gone south; it’s without a goal in 19 chances over the past seven games. If the Hawks are going to give up three goals a game, as they have in every contest on the road trip then they better start scoring some more.

And here is the key point, which emphasizes how much their powerless power play has hurt them: The Hawks are trying to play a tighter, better defensive game, and it’s very probable their five-on-five scoring has suffered because of it. So the Hawks need to take advantage when they go up a man. That’s the time they basically don’t have to worry about defense. And with the likes of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp all potentially playing together or as a combination on the two units, there can be no excuses. No finger pointing except in the mirror.

“It’s always fun to be a man up,” Kane said Wednesday after practice. “I always say to the guys ‘we have to take control of the power play here’ and make sure we get some chances.”

The Hawks think they got a few more chances than normal in their 3-2 loss to Nashville on Tuesday. But again, they didn’t score in a close game. They could have used one. Asking for two power-play goals in one night is asking for a lot. That hasn’t happened since Jan. 18, a span of 10 games.

“It’s tough to pinpoint one thing,” Sharp said. “The power play goes up and down. It’s obviously in a valley right now.”

With so much skill, many fans must be asking ‘why?’ Again, coaches can only do so much. A little different than penalty killing, this isn’t about strategy or desire, it’s about execution. World-class players such as Hossa and Kane don’t need to be coached on what to do with the puck.

The power-play unit's need to work extra hard to get the puck then get it to the net. That’s been one problem with it. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith haven’t exactly had huge years on the power play and both have struggled at times getting pucks to the net.

“It’s surprising because it’s been good for the last few years,” Sharp said.

Last season the Hawks ranked fourth in the league on the power play, the year before they were 16th and went on to win the Stanley Cup. This season they’ve fallen to 17th. And it’s needed now more than ever. With some role players struggling, and goaltender issues along with defensive woes, the star studded power play could have easily lifted the Hawks out of their slump.

“The power play the last two games did the right things,” Joel Quenneville said. “We sustained the momentum of the game, had some good chances, some zone time. Something to build off of in that area.”

It has been better, but why did it need 5-7 games of dreadful play before showing signs of life? The answer is probably the same answer to the entire team’s struggles. Things were taken for granted. The Hawks were scoring a lot of goals and winning for a long time because of it, why examine it too closely?

Maybe the lesson in all this is everything comes back to bite you if it’s not done right. The Hawks' penalty killing took a step against Nashville, now it’s the power play’s turn. And the pressure is on the stars to work harder at causing chaos in the offensive zone. That leads to goals.

“We’ll keep going that way with the special teams,” Toews said of the slow progress. “I think it’s getting better. One of these nights it will win us a game.”

Blackhawks nation hopes it’s soon. Very soon.

Q’s demeanor

It’s a fine line for a coach: scold the players or pat them on the back? After losing nine straight games, which way is Quenneville leaning?

“As a coach you want to be hard on guys and there’s times where you have to be supportive,” he said. “I think right now we want to be supportive and encouraging. That’s kind of the way I am right now.”

Is that the right tactic though? It is if he’s getting maximum effort out of his team. Until Tuesday night in Nashville that wasn’t the case so maybe that’s the tipping point for the hard work. If so, then Quenneville is doing the right thing but a slide backwards in work ethic means a stronger message needs to be sent. It wasn’t strong enough earlier in the streak.

Slappers

• The Hawks nine game losing skid is the longest in the NHL this season. The Hawks last lost 10 straight games in late 2005 through early 2006.

• Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa did not practice on Wednesday but Quenneville called it a “maintenance day” for all three and they are scheduled to play Thursday night.

• Quenneville said there was no change in the status of defensemen Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Both remain in Chicago with upper body injuries.