Hjalmarsson needs to step up

Niklas Hjalmarsson has been on the ice for every goal the Hawks have allowed so far this season. Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

There probably weren’t many dry eyes at the United Center before Saturday night’s game against the Red Wings.

The banner raising ceremony hit all the right emotions. It brought back instant memories of a season ago, and if the tears weren’t flowing early in the ceremony, then by the time the 1961 championship team handed the banner off to the 2010 champions, tissues were everywhere.

The length of the event was just right and it was pulled off in flawless fashion. There were no sticky cables or misspelled words on the banners, or wardrobe malfunctions. And none of it felt over the top. That was truly a night to be a proud Hawks fan.

And then the game started.

Actually, the game was OK. The Hawks are working some things out, especially at the bottom end of the roster -- and especially on defense.

Has any player’s value ever gone higher by not playing than Brian Campbell’s? It started last year, when the team missed him at the beginning of the playoffs and then came together as he returned. Now, he’s being missed immediately again.

One of these Fridays, Campbell’s normal partner on the ice, Niklas Hjalmarsson, is going to get his first paycheck with his new mega-salary -- players are only paid during the regular season -- and with it comes new responsibility. A year ago, he was being brought along by Campbell, now he has to lead the way for he and his partner -- whoever that might be until Campbell returns.

Hjalmarsson has been on the ice for every goal the Hawks have given up so far -- seven. That’s even strength, power play and delayed penalty goals. You name it, he’s been there. In game one he was paired with Nick Leddy, then he started with Nick Boynton. Nothing has gone right. He has had no good fortune -- John Scott falling down, but he hasn’t made any breaks come his way either. Is it me or has every time Hjalmarsson gone down to the ice to block a pass or shot the puck has ended up in the Hawks' net?

It’s as much an indictment on the other defenseman as it is Hjalmarsson. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook can’t play 30-40 minutes every night, although Keith is 2-for-2 in that category. Jordan Hendry was hopeful to be a regular in the lineup -- that lasted one game. And Scott better get moving , or he’ll hear it from the fans soon enough. Boynton will give you some hard minutes, but 20 is too many. That’s what he played on Saturday. Leddy’s time was cut in half from Game 1 to Game 2, so it’s safe to say, without Campbell, the defense is thin and a work in progress.

On offense, Joel Quenneville and Jonathan Toews were down on the power play after the game against Detroit. It’s hard to argue with them. The mighty Red Wings gave the Hawks three power play chances in the final period to tie the game, and they didn’t take advantage. However, it has produced three goals in two games. Anyone would take that, but 3-for-12 doesn’t sound all that impressive -- 4-for-12 sure does. And one goal makes the difference in these games.

Nice effort by Jake Dowell, Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille. That’s not your typical fourth line. More speed than grit, and it showed on Saturday.

Brandon Pirri was thrust into a tough spot filling in for Patrick Sharp at the last minute, and his line, along with Troy Brouwer and Fernando Pisani, spent too much time in their own end. Pirri was sent back down to Rockford on Sunday.

But just like in Game 1, the Hawks' stars all played pretty well. Marian Hossa’s passing has been spot on. He found Bryan Bickell with a laser in Colorado and did the same against Detroit, getting it to Brent Seabrook for a wide open look, which he buried. That line with Toews and Tomas Kopecky has been the best through two games, but it probably would have produced more if Kopecky could finish better -- that’s as a playmaker or scorer.

He said after Saturday’s game he had to “settle” the puck on one great sequence where he had Toews wide open in front of the net. He was thinking of shooting and then passing but couldn’t pull the trigger once a defender came at him. Kopecky is rightly earning some good reviews from coaches and fans alike, but is he the man to play long term with Toews and Hossa? Does he have the hands and instincts to produce more? The answer so far is no. He’s a little gritty and has a good shot. That’s what we’ve seen from Kopecky, at his best, since he came here. More evidence might be needed before a final determination for that line is made.

Margin for error is a nice phrase to use when a team goes from very deep to a little less so. There is simply less margin for error. Playing already with two key players out of the lineup reduces that margin further. It would not have taken much for the Hawks to get another point or even a win in the first two games -- Scott staying up or Turco seeing a dribbler come to mind -- but that’s what separates the good from the great.

We didn’t need to see two winless games to make this assessment: the Hawks are back to being a good team that’s working on being great.

More banners will follow if they get there.