The year will end for the Chicago Blackhawks with a similar feeling as its beginning: uncertainty.
Last January it was an enthusiastic uncertainty that hovered over the Hawks as winter turned to spring. This time it’s fraught with a little more anxiety.
The injuries are one thing -- though the most important player on the team (Jonathan Toews) is now out -- it’s the crunch-time inefficiency that has plagued the Hawks all season. After Thursday’s 5-3 loss to San Jose, the Hawks are a paltry 2-7-1 when tied after two periods and have even given away four games when leading after two.
"I think it's mostly conditioning. To me, the proof of that, is a team that is good in the third period is a team that is in shape. A team that wins in the third, that keeps playing, skating and working, that is a team that is in shape.”
Before you start tweeting and posting on Facebook that Quenneville thinks his team is out of shape, you should know those comments were made by New Jersey head coach Jacques Lemaire about his woeful Devils.
If he feels that way about his team, which has only given up 29 third-period goals -- that’s 26th in the league -- then what must Quenneville think of the Hawks, who have given up the most -- 47?
No one is claiming they are out of shape -- though they could be. It's hard to tell from the pressbox.
Mentally, they might be fatigued. Who can blame them? That’s what short summers do. It’s also why there needs to be more reliance on goaltending, the great equalizer.
And this past week proved once again, the Hawks’ hopes are down to one man: Corey Crawford. We could analyze and break down what is, and is not working for Marty Turco, but the bottom line is, it’s just not working for the team when he is in net. Even with him playing decent over the past three games, the Hawks went 1-2. Using the defensive play in front of him as any kind of argument, or excuse, is a mistake.
It’s simple. However great you thought last year’s defense was, Cristobal Huet still could not keep his job and not many thought the Hawks would win much of anything if he was the guy in the playoffs. This season, no matter how bad the defense has been, Crawford is 10-1-1 over his past 12 starts, before getting ill. End of story. Look at the goals given up, not the defenders in front.
The only problem is a ton of pressure now falls on Crawford’s shoulders. Don’t get sick again, kid. By most calculations, unless the Hawks really struggle without Toews, (a possibility) there are 10 teams in the West for eight playoff spots. The Hawks shouldn’t care about seeding, just about getting in -- and keeping Crawford healthy.
Best of 2010: On the ice, there may never be a more unlikely moment than the short-handed goal by Patrick Kane in the waning seconds of Game 5 against the Nashville Predators in the opening round of the playoffs at the United Center. The only more incredible scenario would have been if the Hawks were facing elimination. We’ll never know what would have happened if they lost that game, but to win it --even after Kane scored, Marian Hossa was still in the penalty box -- is about as amazing as they come. Off the ice, the Stanley Cup parade was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. An incredible, unforgettable day.
Good move: Congratulations to Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk for being extended by the Hawks for three more years. Olczyk is a gold mine of information. He’s a Chicagoan, who played for the Hawks, won a Stanley Cup in New York, was Sidney Crosby’s first coach, and has more than enough information to bring to the television audience. And it doesn’t hurt that Versus and NBC love the guy, too.