Blackhawks

Hawks problems? A lot of little things, adding up to 5

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Hawks problems? A lot of little things, adding up to 5

Whats wrong with the Blackhawks that a consistent, 60-minute commitment to defensive responsibility wouldnt solve?

The first question to the biggest culprit of this five-game slide is whether the current roster is capable of pulling that off. Based on the 53-game body of work, the answer is no. You've gotta see it to believe it. So far, weve rarely seen it.

Unless theres a belief in the locker room theres a switch the players can flip whenever they want to, a single point earned over the past five games lays the groundwork for a perilous road ahead. Not just for the six games that remain on this trip, but for the longer road haul. Defense and goaltending might be the two most important ingredients to winning a Stanley Cup and right now, there are three teams in their own division doing a better job with those ingredients than the Blackhawks.

Even before this slump, general manager Stan Bowman knew he needed help. Based on Fridays pregame comments, there arent yet any dance partners for what he (and others on a Cup-quest) has in mind. No one is giving up or has the player(s) hes looking for, or the price is too high, or no one is ready to throw in the towel on their own seasons. If his team doesnt start playing better between now and the Feb. 27 trade deadline, his job gets a lot tougher.

He remains true to The Core and at least through this season, looking only for additional pieces around players who have produced and won in the past for one of the best coaches in league history. But there are only so many buttons Joel Quenneville can push.

This team has a couple of young players going through their first full NHL seasons who have been regularly slotted in Top 4 and Top 6 roles. They will be so much better two more years and 10 more pounds from now.

They have two players who have given them nothing offensively this season after showing such third-line promise in last years playoffs. The last two games, as theyve continued to alternate between opportunities and healthy scratches, both have taken penalties which have led to power-play goals. Thats part of the reason the center they played with last spring cant find his consistency.

Theres a top defensive pairing once again putting in between 25 and 30 minutes per game, and so focused on covering up for their teammates defensive malaise they've been unable to jump into the offense, which makes the team so much better.

But wait, theres more.

A goalie who is still considered the future at that position (and should be) adjusting to being "The Guy" after finally earning that title a year ago when he wasnt "The Guy." His confidence hasnt been helped by teammates relying on him to cover their own mistakes. This team was built their starting goalie having to be very good (which hes proven he can be), but its forcing him to be great.

What we know about the most recent roster addition is that it hasnt supplied an immediate impact through three games. We also know the player whos generally expected to lead this team in goals has two in his last 21 games, and sits sixth on the team in that category.

Theres a few other things, too, but well start applying the brakes.

Expect Ray Emery to take the net for awhile, because if it has to be up to the goalie, he gives them the best chance right now. And until Bowman can pull the trigger on something, the opinion here is a callup or two from Rockford might be the only way to get better, personnel-wise, for this next three-game stretch.

While its still all about how a team is playing two months from now, and teams go through rough patches every season, the Blackhawks have collected just 13 points over the last 15 games. The question is whether theyre truly better than that, or if thats just what this team is -- which would be a huge disappointment from Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough down to the paying customers and viewers at home.

The feeling here is theyre certainly capable of being the former. But the longer theyre not

Nothing a nice three-game sweep of Colorado, San Jose and Phoenix cant cure. Right now its easier said than done.

Blackhawks mailbag: Defensive challenges and happy campers

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks mailbag: Defensive challenges and happy campers

The Blackhawks entered this season with the same mantra they have countless others: get off to a good start and save yourself a point chase at the end of the season.

My first season on the beat was probably the Blackhawks’ best lesson lately on what happens when you’re scrambling late; they just about missed the playoffs, losing to Detroit in the regular-season finale and needing Minnesota to beat Dallas to get into the postseason. And while the overall results have been a mixed bag, their opening record (5-2-2) isn’t shabby.

Still, there are questions regarding where the Blackhawks are and where they’re heading. To that end (yeah, we’re finally getting to the point of this whole spiel), we bring you this week’s mailbag:

The Blackhawks’ happiness with Tanner Kero was partly because of Kero’s work last season. But in terms of comparing to other centers, Kero’s emergence had more to do with replacing Dennis Rasmussen than it did Marcus Kruger – Kero re-signed with the Blackhawks around the same time talks reportedly went awry between the team and Rasmussen. Anyway, back to Kero. I don’t think it’s so much what he’s not doing as what Tommy Wingels is doing in that fourth-line spot. The Blackhawks originally envisioned Wingels at wing but he has previous experience at center and his work there has been pretty good. Saturday night’s game certainly helps, be it for Wingels alone or keeping that fourth line together (he, John Hayden and Lance Bouma, who scored the game-winner). Don’t be surprised if there’s some rotation there, though.

Maybe, although either of those guys will likely still be rotating in/out with another player. Just depends on how much the Blackhawks want those guys playing constantly (I would guess that would be the case with rookie Matthew Highmore more than Hinostroza).

We all know this contract, all know how it hamstrings the Blackhawks for a while. But in the immediate future, what can you do? Fellow scribe Mark Lazerus has asked a few times about Seabrook’s place in the lineup and coach Joel Quenneville has demurred. Granted, we’re guessing general manager Stan Bowman doesn’t want Seabrook out of the lineup, either. Seabrook’s leadership skills are tremendous; to a man, the Blackhawks will say how vocal he is. His past work, especially in the playoffs, speaks for itself. It depends on how things progress as the season goes but I don’t foresee Seabrook coming out of the lineup right now. Speaking of Seabrook…

Highly doubt it. The asking price won’t be just one guy for another. And with any trade talk I remind everyone to see a player’s NMC status. Seabrook has a full no movement clause.

Nope, he’s not going anywhere, as the traveling media confirmed with Quenneville on Monday afternoon in Las Vegas. I had to be reminded that DeBrincat was nearing that deadline on Sunday, his status not coming up in conversations with Quenneville and Stan Bowman like it did when Brandon Saad made the team at 19. DeBrincat has made such an impression that it was going to take something extraordinary for the Blackhawks to reassign him. DeBrincat has found his place in the lineup and whether or not he’s been scoring he’s been good. So here, he remains.

You don’t trade him. The Blackhawks are where they are right now due in large part to their goaltending, especially Crawford. There have been, what, two games in which the Blackhawks dominated? So no, you don’t trade Crawford.

We’re quite a while from the trade deadline, so let’s tap the breaks on any talk about what the Blackhawks may do several months from now. As far as Murphy’s current status, no, I don’t believe his job is in jeopardy. Again, part of this is the eight-defensemen situation. But it’s also getting Murphy more ingrained in the system. I talked to Dave Tippett, Murphy’s former coach, a few weeks ago. He said, “we put him into situations he may not have been ready for [with Arizona], but he always continued to improve in those situations. He still has a lot of growing to do but he’s a very dedicated athlete and I think there’s a lot of upside there.” It’s easy to look at who the Blackhawks traded away for Murphy and Murphy’s contract and say, “yeah, he should be an everyday guy.” He should be at some point but considering what I mentioned above, I’m not surprised he isn’t right now. Speaking of defensemen rotating in and out of the lineup…

Yeah, I’m still not a big fan of the eight-defensemen set, for the reason you just mentioned. I wrote about the Blackhawks’ defensive juggling act on Sunday and, while I still think it’s tough to do I believe the Blackhawks will stay with it for a while. I list some reasons in Sunday’s story, which is linked above. So far (judging from outward appearances) the defensemen seem to be on board with the changes. I’m just curious to see how long they can keep the balance to where no one is sitting too long. That’s always the challenge.

Signing Cody Franson was part of the short-term plan regarding the long-term injured reserve funds. I think the Blackhawks just let things play out now for a while. You’re not going to make a move based on the first month of the season.

Yeah, someday I will stop writing about the power play’s woes but it won’t be today. I personally don’t think it’s the personnel. Whenever we talk about this it’s usually the same culprits: lack of movement, not enough shots and net-front traffic. I still say a strong penalty kill is more important and if the Blackhawks’ 5-on-5 scoring increases the power-play concerns fade. But it has cost them, so it’s certainly a concern.

I wouldn’t take the stern expressions as a sign of unhappiness. I’ve seen them plenty of times arriving at an arena looking like that; just focused before a game.

Going to go with a B-plus mainly because they came out of those first eight games with a pretty solid record. Granted, goaltending deserves a massive pat on the back for that. But it’s still early and I still figure the lines will get rolling at some point. Penalty kill has been very good and power play absolutely has to get better.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks find 'Energy Line' before they hit the Vegas Strip

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks find 'Energy Line' before they hit the Vegas Strip

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Tracey Myers discuss the "Energy Line" of Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels and John Hayden.

The also look at how video replay hasn’t gone the Hawks' way this season and the dangerous hit that Ryan Hartman received from Zack Kassian.

They also preview the matchup with the surprise of the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the issues the expansion team has in net.

Take a listen below: