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Hawks leaders mostly quiet in early going

Sunday is always a good time to reflect, especially as the Chicago Blackhawks take the day off before heading out on their first mini-road trip, which will take them to Phoenix and Colorado.

Four games is hardly enough of a sample size to draw any conclusions, but if you’re wearing a letter for the Hawks, you probably feel like you’re off to a little bit of a slow start.

“Slow start” is a relative phrase when it comes to the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith. Expectations are through the roof for the Blackhawks, and subsequently the core players, that any four-game “slump” is going to be dissected ad nausuem.

The Blackhawks are 2-1-1, but forget about points for a moment (those can be misleading anyway), the three players have simply been “quiet.”

Sharp is just rounding into game shape after missing all of preseason after undergoing an appendectomy and frankly he is getting his shot off. He has 16 in four games, second only behind Patrick Kane. He’s on the cusp, but he’s definitely a player who could benefit from Toews raising his game as he always does.

Toews has had a knack for slow starts, but that’s mostly been related to goals and assists. He’s usually sound in all other areas but that hasn’t completely been the case over the first 10 days. Saturday night’s example was glaring. With the Hawks holding a one-goal lead, he went backwards with the puck, creating a turnover and starting the scoring sequence for Boston which would tie the game. Though there were other errors after the turnover, coach Joel Quenneville looked at that as the big mistake.

“Should be our puck, but we don’t have to go back to give it to them either though,” Quenneville said after the 3-2 shootout loss to Boston.

Finding holes in Toews’ game is like finding a needle in a haystack, but after four games he’s been uncharacteristically just OK. The good thing is no one will be harder on him than he’ll be on himself.

The same is probably true for Keith, who is looking to return to the elite level of play that won him the Norris Trophy in 2010. Diehard fans, and maybe the casual ones as well, might be wondering if they are seeing the same Keith as last season -- who was probably exhausted for most of it -- but that would be premature.

Right off the bat, it has to be pointed out that the bar is so high for Keith that it’s hard for him to reach it night in and night out. And unlike the forwards, he can’t hide on the ice and have an off night. Not with his responsibilities and playing time. Remember, it’s his job to bring along a 20-year-old, not Brent Seabrook or Niklas Hjalmarsson. It’s his job to play the most minutes -- a team high 25:50 per game so far -- and it’s his job to quarterback the first power-play unit.

Still, his play hasn’t had the immediate return to Norris Trophy level most people were hoping for. He’s been on the ice for five of the nine goals scored against the Hawks this season while being out there for four his own team has netted. But all four came in one game -- against Winnipeg.

Maybe starting the season without his pal Seabrook next to him was a mistake. He won the Norris with No. 7 as his partner. Now he basically has a rookie with him. And as good as Nick Leddy played Saturday night -- Quenneville raved about him -- he could have helped prevent the tying goal. Keith looked like he gave up on the play as the puck was dumped in and chased down by Johnny Boychuk of the Bruins, but he undoubtedly was looking to Leddy to chase it down as the puck was shot in. Leddy parked himself in front of the net making Keith go get it. When Boychuk found a streaking Nathan Horton, Leddy did nothing to prevent the goal there either. There is little doubt Keith and Seabrook would have communicated better on the play.

To Keith’s credit, win or lose, he’s available to the media 99 percent of the time after games, something you can’t say for a lot of players across professional sports, even in the Hawks dressing room. He’ll even wear it when he knows he can be better, as with Saturday night’s first Boston goal, a shorthanded tally.

“It was a 2-on-1,” Keith said. “I think I could do a better job playing that 2-on-1.”

But there can be no excuses when you’re part of the core of the Blackhawks. You simply have to produce or the Hawks won’t get where they want to go. Keith and company have plenty of time to right the ship but for Hawks nation, sooner than later would be preferable.

Kane’s strong start

One positive no one can disagree with is Kane’s play to start the season. Missing half of training camp and changing positions has done nothing to slow him down. Kane might not say it, but he looks like a man on a mission, especially considering all the public doubts about his move to center.

Maybe his dedication to making it work will finally put to rest the whispers about his off-ice choices. His love of hockey and seriousness about the game should never be doubted, although it continues to be.

Like most small players, he’s been doubted his whole life. As a youngster, when checking became part of the game, many thought he would regress. When taken No. 1 overall, many thought again he would be too small to make that kind of an impact. And now with the move to the middle there were doubts once again if he could handle it. Each time he has proven people wrong mostly by utilizing his quickness.

Quickness trumps everything in sports, including size. It’s probably the reason he’s winning an astounding 56.5 percent of his face-offs. He’s hard to catch, and his stick is a defensive weapon in his own zone. And when he gets the puck moving up ice, there isn’t a defenseman in the league who wants a part of that, let alone a goalie.

It’s OK to define his play by goals and assists, because that’s what he’s on this planet to produce. Two goals and four assists in four games is just about right for a player who wants to break the 90-point plateau for the first time in his career.

Four games won’t turn Kane from an All-Star right wing into an All-Star center and four games won’t diminish what Toews and Keith have previously accomplished. But the picture of the season has begun to be painted, and while some have been on top of their game, others need to pick it up.