By Brady Stiff
The Blackhawks have been in a little bit of a tailspin lately, losing six of their last eight. The good news is they haven’t fallen out of the division lead, so they still have home ice in the playoffs. The bad news is, they’ve shown no real signs of coming out of their recent slump.
Some will blame it on goaltending. It’s no secret that Joel Quenneville prefers Antti Niemi over Cristobal Huet these days, but it’s not like Niemi is Ryan Miller-esque. The other night in Columbus, with the playoff starting job in doubt, Q went with Huet, who proceeded to hand Niemi the job on a silver platter.
Some will blame it on the Olympics. Sure, there were six Blackhawks that played in Vancouver, including four who played in the gold medal game. Those guys haven’t been as productive since the Olympics. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both have just three goals since the break. Duncan Keith is -7 in that same time frame. Brent Seabrook has missed some time. Marian Hossa has actually performed well, with 10 points in the 12 games since the Olympics. Tomas Kopecky continues to be a role player.
Others will say that it’s just a lack of focus and intensity. Those others would be the Blackhawks themselves.
“We’re going to get back on track and be a confident team headed into the playoffs,” said Toews. As the one who wears the ‘C’, he needs to step up and make sure that happens. He has to do whatever is necessary to light a fire under these guys. Maybe he should get in a scrap to show that he, too, can stand up for himself.
There is another guy, though, who can make his impact felt.
Adam Burish has played in just nine games this year and has just two points, but it’s what doesn’t show up in the box score that counts. The intensity, the drive, and above all else, fresh legs. Sure he’s coming off of a torn ACL, which I can tell you from experience is no small task, but he hasn’t played near the amount of hockey that the rest of his teammates have. He needs to start bringing the fire to the ice, incite some riots, blow some people up, get into fights, whatever he can.
It’s not like this is anything new, either. In his first game back, Burish was in a fight by the three minute mark. Fights can be the best thing that happens to a team. Despite the five minute major, the crowd loves fights, and if you’re at home, getting in a fight and putting a good beatdown on someone will have the crowd in it for the rest of the period.
The Hawks have a chance to grab the top seed in the Western Conference. It’s right there in front of them. All they have to do is get back to playing the winning hockey they did for the first 50-60 games. Solid defense, puck possession, fighting through checks, winning board battles, and capitalizing on scoring chances.
It all sounds so easy doesn’t it?
Watching this team right now reminds me of a baseball team who’s locked everything up by mid-September. Nothing to really play for, just going through the motions. But the thing is, the Hawks do have something to play for. All they have to do is want it. I know that’s cliché, but it is what it is. This team is way too talented to get in their own way.