Friday Feb. 18, 2011
By Tracey Myers
The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins head into Sundays matchup with a few things in common. Theyre the two most recent Stanley Cup winners. Theyre both loaded with young talent. Theyve both dealt with significant injuries this season.
Yet while the Penguins are sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference standings while the Blackhawks are 11th in the West and struggling to make up ground.
Who's under the most pressure? The Hawks or Penguins?
So what gives? Well, just take a look at each teams schedule. Specifically, look at what the Penguins did during November and December. With Sidney Crosby on his monster 25-game point run the Penguins followed suit, going 19-6-2 over those two months.
That run proved vital, considering where theyre at now. They could be without Crosby (concussion) a while longer, if not the whole season. Theyre definitely minus Evgeni Malkin (knee) the rest of the season. Theyre treading water in February, sporting a 5-4-0 record this month. And with that type of firepower missing, theyre relying on their other assets.
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Their strengths, obviously, are in goal and on defense, said Blackhawks analyst and former Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk. You can look at their top four defensemen, (Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang), which is a heck of a D as a starting point. When you don't have offense youre defending a lot. Right now, that's where they're going to have success.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have been missing that productive run all year long. Theyve had their own injury issues -- Brian Campbell (knee) missed the first month of the season, Patrick Kane (knee) missed three weeks and Marian Hossas (various) been in and out. Then theres the summer turnover, which left the Blackhawks figuring out new teammates for most of the first month or two. It all led to inconsistency.
You can't redo your roster by 50 percent and not expect to have issues, said NBC analyst Mike Milbury recently. There are bound to be bumps. You throw in goaltending issues and its a recipe for an uneven season. But they can still lean on some pretty good guys.
True, but one of the Blackhawks biggest Achilles heel has nothing to do with the remaining talent or roster turnover. Its the Blackhawks lack of finish. Coach Joel Quenneville has kept count of how many times the Blackhawks have led or been tied in the third period, only to come away with no points. By our last count, its around 12 games, and the squandered points have loomed large here late.
The mind, heart and soul is there, Olczyk said. Its about execution. Its whether or not you can find a way to win a game or do you find a way to lose games. I do see the urgency, I do see the want. Sometimes it's the execution and that's all it comes down to.
The Penguins and Blackhawks will have their reasons for urgency on Sunday. The Penguins want to hold on to the top-four spot that gives then home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks just need to get in to the playoffs and cant afford to squander any points, especially at home. With the potential for missing the playoffs, missing a chance to defend that Cup, theres not much more need for motivation.
Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.