<
>

Confidence factor? Hawks lack clutch play

The Blackhawks have not looked like a championship-caliber team at crunch times this season. Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty Images

One step forward, one step back. It's becoming a weekly theme for the 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks.

The Hawks took the day off on Monday, no doubt contemplating their latest -- and worst -- collapse. It might have only been a one-goal lead they blew on Sunday to Edmonton, but it may as well have been five. That's what it felt like when the Oilers scored two times within 14 seconds of the third period to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory for the visitors.

"Unacceptable" was the word heard most often in the Hawks dressing room. It's good to hear them not chalking it up to "one of those things that happens," because going by that theory, how does it explain the handful of other times the Hawks have blown it in the third or given up multiple goals in a short amount of time?

After Saturday's thrilling win in Atlanta, it looked they may have learned some lessons. They were able to tie the game at 4-4 late in the second period, and they played a smart final 20 minutes on the road to get the game to overtime. The Hawks got their point and then one more in the shootout.

Obviously, that was a one-game exception. Their norm this season has been to falter at the most important of times.

There was the game against Nashville on Oct. 13 when the Hawks led 2-1 going into the third and lost 3-2 in regulation. On Oct. 23, they did the same thing against Columbus, by the same exact score. And then there was Sunday night, when a 1-0 defensive effort for over 40 minutes got wasted by a 14-second letdown.

What do all three of those games have in common? They were all at home, and in none of those contests did the Hawks get a point.

We haven't even discussed some other letdowns like in New York against the Rangers, on Nov. 1, where the Hawks tied the game 2-2 in the third period only to -- you guessed it -- give it right back, this time, 28 seconds later.

The Hawks are 5-3 when leading after two periods and 1-3 when tied after two. Those kind of numbers are unacceptable.

How does a championship caliber team with plenty of crunch time experience play like this? It's the question Joel Quenneville is undoubtedly trying to answer right now.

After throwing out the clich├ęs like "championship hangover" and "roster turnover," there is one logical conclusion for the specific problems the Hawks are having: Their confidence as a team has worked against them. What other explanation can there be?

Last year, they knew they could turn it on when they needed to, and maybe they are subconsciously thinking the same thing now.

"I don't know if it's something that we think is going to come easy for our hockey team, [but] nothing comes easy in this league," Brian Campbell said Sunday after the game. "It doesn't matter if you're at home or on the road, it's never easy for us or any team to win. You have to work hard to earn your points in this league, and right now we're not working hard enough."

Especially in crunch time and especially when momentum is up for grabs.

"We should be grasping the importance of critical shifts and timelessness of getting the job done defensively," Quenneville said Sunday. "We're not looking for blame here, we're looking for solutions. No matter who is on the ice, we have to be better in these situations."

The Hawks obviously know where and when the problems exist. Now comes the hard part. Fixing them.