The time for questions is over. Questions like, what's wrong with the Chicago Blackhawks? The answers have become painfully obvious: defense and (some) goaltending.
Now is the time for solutions, if there are any.
It's important the goalies know this, if not the public. It's especially important for Turco. He needs to change his mind-set. The pressure will still be on him but only to help the team when he's called upon -- like in back to back games or in a real busy stretch when Crawford needs a rest. No longer can he be thinking, "I'm playing for my job." That's done and gone. At least for now. This way, he can relax and just play goalie -- as a back-up.
This, by no means, is an indicator the problems lay at his feet. In fact, it's easy to feel sorry for Turco considering he wanted to play here going back to last season, when he saw a dominant defense limit the other team. What goalie wouldn't want that? It's just that Crawford gives them a better chance to win. Monday night in Colorado was the latest and best example.
Both goalies played behind a very poor effort by the blue-liners. Despite losing, Crawford played much better than Turco. The evidence was there on the ice, within the same game. Crawford bailed out that defense as best he could. Turco didn't come close. If he had stayed in the game, Colorado could have scored 10. Crawford was that good, until the final moments, of course.
Here is the bottom line: Because of a poor defense this season, the margin for error has shrunk. Quenneville was able to stay with Cristobal Huet last year because his defense bailed him out. Now, its time for a Hawks goaltender to do the same for the guys in front of him, as best he can. Crawford has proven, in a relatively short sample size, he can do the job. No one can predict how he will handle the mental challenge and pressure of the everyday gig, but right now, the unknown is better than the known.
As for the defense, that's a much more complicated problem. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook wouldn't make any Olympic team this year. No chance. At minus-11, Keith is no longer off to a poor start. This is turning into a poor season, and considering he is the reigning Norris Trophy winner, it's a shocker. The shock is only a little less when it comes to Seabrook. He's "only" minus-5 but in a contract year, it's not the type of season anyone would want. Missed assignments, blown coverage, mental mistakes, and turnovers have plagued the duo. And that's a summation of Quenneville's words regarding Monday night.
Instead of saying the usual about team defense needing to be better, he singled out his six defenders, but really, he was talking about Keith and Seabrook.
"You can say up front we weren't bad, but our defense had a bad night," Quenneville said. "Across the board our back end had a tough night."
Keith and Seabrook were a combined minus-8, on ice for six and five goals against, respectively. The other four defensemen were a combined even. That's incredible considering the Avalanche scored seven even strength goals, including one empty-net score.
So again, we know the problem, what's the solution?
Quenneville already tried breaking up the pair in order to reduce the workload, but that had a short-term positive effect. Nick Boynton and Jassen Cullimore were exposed, and Keith -- in particular -- looked uncomfortable without Seabrook.
So reunited they were, and the Hawks defense improved. But once again, their minutes increased. He could try breaking them up again, but it doesn't seem like the long-term solution.
Stan Bowman said before the game on Monday he's talking to teams about upgrades and extra depth at center and defense. Instead of a depth move, if he wanted to be bold, he could trade a top level prospect for a legitimate top four D-man. Theoretically, he did it a year ago in moving Cam Barker for Kim Johnsson, though Barker wasn't living up to expectations and neither did Johnsson for that matter.
Dangling Kyle Beach, Jeremy Morin or even Troy Brouwer isn't inconceivable considering the Hawks' need on the blue line. No one wants to give up a guy like Morin, but if the price is right for a defender, Bowman would have to think long and hard -- that is if they can afford one.
The best answer to the Hawks' problems on defense might already be staring Quenneville in the face, in the form of numbers 4 and 51. It's time for Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell to really start earning their paychecks. Campbell is plus-10 while Hjalmarsson is "only" minus-3. Anyone who has watched the games knows Hjalmarsson is playing much better as of late, in fact he's plus-8 over his last 12 games. Why, in a game in which Keith and Seabrook were clearly struggling, did those two play 28:54 and 26:26, respectively, while Campbell and Hjalmarsson only were on the ice for only 20:18 and 18:55? It's time for the latter pair to play against some of the other team's best players.
Combined, Campbell and Hjalmarsson make nearly the same money as Keith and Seabrook, so why shouldn't they see more important minutes? Neither played in the Olympics a season ago, and Campbell is Keith-like in his athleticism, plus he's been injured for over two months the last two years. He can handle the minutes and Hjalmarsson's young enough his workload can increase too. Whether they both can handle some of the league's top players remains to be seen, but if Quenneville wants to reduce the minutes of Keith and Seabrook, this is his best option.
One more piece to the puzzle involves Nick Leddy. If money isn't a problem, expect him with the Hawks sometime after the World Junior Championships, which conclude January 5. Bowman's plan of bringing along his prospects, especially on defense, might have to be expedited if they want to save this season.
Someone has to take the workload away from Keith and Seabrook, but until that time, it will be up to Corey Crawford to clean up the mess when it materializes in front of him. All is not lost, but some solutions need to be found, or we'll be down to just one question: What has happened to the Blackhawks' season?