Blackhawks try hard but this isn’t the cup-winning team - FOX 32 News Chicago

Blackhawks try hard but this isn’t the cup-winning team

Updated: Apr 23, 2012 9:27 AM CDT
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The fact the Blackhawks can't seem to play with the same effort throughout a game makes them an interesting but frustrating club to follow. From night to night or period to period, even shift to shift the Hawks can appear a scattered group. My view is the will to win of the team shouldn't be questioned but there is a need to further define the word effort in this context.

In the case of the Blackhawks, putting out effort isn't necessarily the same as trying hard. Now almost a day doesn't go by without some in local media as well as Hawk fans feeling disgust because this group seemingly brings a part time performance. As some would say, the Blackhawks don't care enough until their backs are to the wall.

That type of thinking is reasonable, to a degree, but in reality putting forth effort isn't the issue. The problem is this team exhibits the wrong type of effort, so even though they are trying hard the results aren't as consistent as most fans would like. In the playoffs, more so than a Tuesday night in January versus Edmonton, the players are focused. They are trying their hardest to win but sometimes not working together in a way to have the most opportunity for success.

The Blackhawks as a team still struggle for an identity. Their current roster doesn't give them the opportunity to consistently win in the same way as when they won the Stanley Cup. A different style of play is needed, one not only based on speed and pretty plays.

The game has changed in the last few years, penalties are called differently and teams must be able to crash and bang to win. Even a top skill level club like Washington has changed the way it plays because regular season success didn't lead to long playoff runs.

Over last summer I heard a recorded interview with Scotty Bowman. He was asked if he was surprised the Washington Capitals had so much trouble winning in the playoffs. Bowman commented he really wasn't surprised because the Capitals could win games with offensive skill alone in the regular season. So when they needed to play a tight checking-style they would have problems, like in the playoffs. When the going got tough they resorted to what helped them win during the season. The same type of effort didn't work in a playoff series.

Bowman, who is a senior advisor for the Hawks, made reference to winning without the correct effort. Correct effort or effective effort is what the Blackhawks sometimes lack. Over the course of this season, Joel Quenneville and some players have admitted the same. Interestingly, this year it finally appears the Capitals can play an effective style in the playoffs.

When the Hawks began this season, they were winning although not playing the way the coaching staff was instructing them. It's not easy for coaches to make a point about playing differently when a club is still having success. Human nature dictates and if the wrong type of effort isn't followed by a bad consequence, it is more difficult to change behavior. The Hawks changed moreso after their nine game losing streak.

When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, they could win in a variety of ways. They could chip pucks in and retrieve them, they were fast and strong along the boards. Most often they would skate pucks into the offensive zone and look to quicken the pace. Eventually the Hawks would wear down an opponent because of their depth and high skill level. The Cup-winning team had the physical ability and net presence to score from close in and that is a must in today's NHL.

When a club like Nashville tried to slow the game down and gum up the middle of the ice they could frustrate the Hawks. For the most part it was only delaying the inevitable because the 2010 Blackhawks were so good they would impose their will on an opponent. The Cup winners could play almost any style as they were so talented and deep they would come out on top.

This season there is still a good portion of Hawks left over from the championship season, nine players in total. The only real advantage the Blackhawks have today is the Cup-winning experience and a top skill level that is higher end than on most clubs. My feeling is this squad is still trying to define a consistent style of play.

Because many current Blackhawks have Cup-winning experience ingrained in their psyche, it is a benefit although not always a blessing. This team is not as deep and talented as the 2010 version.

Even though many of the main players are the same, the supporting cast is much different. When the going gets tough some players revert back to what worked in the past. At times some back then could get away with focusing on individual efforts. Those players were surrounded by enough talent to overshadow their shortcomings but now things are different.

Now when some revert to old habits, this team doesn't click. The individual efforts from Patrick Kane and others won't cut it these days. The 2010 Hawks could compete even without Kane, Patrick Sharp or Marian Hossa contributing to the offense. These days' goals are much more difficult to come by when those players go cold. This supporting cast can't win games on their own as often but sometimes they come close, as in the current series.

The same thing can be said on defense. The push the pace fast transition game doesn't work as well these days. There isn't another Brian Campbell to quickly turn a play from defense to offense. The passing isn't as good and now the Hawks often struggle to exit their own zone cleanly.

As far as Corey Crawford, make no mistake he is trying but every mistake is magnified these days. When the Hawks can't score a goal without putting an extra attacker on the ice that's a cause for concern, and puts Crawford in a position where he has to be perfect. That's what has happened in this series. Crawford hasn't been as good as Cup winner Antti Niemi, but the group around him also hasn't played as well.

The Blackhawks aren't the same type of team as two years ago and the Coyotes are making that perfectly clear. Even though it is a struggle and Hossa is out the Hawks can win this series. They won't look as good doing so as they did in the Cup season but they can still prevail.

Having a strong will and the confidence from winning a Cup can mean a great deal. Maybe that will lead to more effective efforts for the remainder of this series.

The NHL regular season is a long 82 game grind and it is almost impossible for every player to be sky high for each contest. Make no mistake all Hawk payers are trying hard but no one can be perfect every shift. That's why it takes a total team effort to overcome individuals who don't stick to a plan.

To survive in the playoffs it takes a club which is put together correctly to form a group who can all pull together to succeed.

The Blackhawks don't fail because they aren't trying hard enough, they fail because the type of effort they put forth doesn't give them the best chance to win.

Al's Shots

The United Center will be electric Monday night as the Hawks take the ice. Interestingly, the Hawks lost two of their last three games at the UC to conclude the regular season and have followed with consecutive playoff losses.

Andrew Shaw returns from his three game suspension and will most likely be inserted into the lineup. If Quenneville sticks with the same group that won the last game except for Shaw, my choice would be to sit Brandon Saad.

Maybe Coach Q. keeps the rookie in the lineup and scratches Brendan Morrison, it is difficult to figure what Quenneville will try next. Jamal Mayers who had a good season, has been healthy scratch the last two games so anything is possible.

Quenneville is still searching for the correct mix of players and the most effective style of play. That says something about the roster he has to work with.

Maybe Monday night will be the time the Hawks power play will score their second goal of the series.

Hopefully Game 6 will be the time for Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp to be difference makers. In their case, the key is to not dwell on individual efforts and to stay off the perimeter.

Crash and bang goals will be needed. If the Hawks can get to the emotional Mike Smith maybe he will crack. Shaw might be able to get into his head but he will need to stay out of the penalty box.

Let's look forward to the correct type of effort to send this series back to Phoenix.

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