As I sit here on the morning after another playoff loss of the only sports team I care about, my reflection has a certain familiarity to it. All this season, the Blackhawks have had a specific weakness against Detroit; they cannot skate two periods in a row with the Dead Wings. I don’t know why this is; I don’t know how the coaching staff has not seen it, or if they have why they have not addressed it. I don’t understand how the players can allow this fault to have any consistency, but there it is, clear as the sky on this morning after, and it has been there all season long.
Let’s you and I hotwire Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine, which is my name for my DVR (yes, I do have all the ‘Hawks game saved either on my DVR or on a hard drive because I still entertain the idea that I could one day be paid for my obsessive-compulsive disorder that I call my Blackhawks fandom) and look at the first game of the year against our most hated rival that was played on October 25, 2008. We were flat in the first; Franzen’s goal was, tough to admit, quite pretty, and VerStud’s goal was a flukey tip-in off of a shot by T-Bone (Troy Blowout for anyone still desperate for a nickname to tack onto Brouwer). Overall, Detritus and Chicago traded rushes, with the Wingnuts looking more and more dominant as the period wore on. It was going to be a long night by the end of the first.
The puck drops on the second period, and the ‘Hawks are alive! Aaron “Mighty” Johnson scores a goal, doubling his career total, and even after a tying goal by Marian “Money Honey” Hossa, there is no quit in this team, scoring twice more (JHC’s backhand is a thing of beauty) and we take the lead, 4-2. Joy!
But in the next period the energy is out of the legs of the ‘Hawks again. Scum ties and takes the lead with three unanswered goals. A Pity goal for Kaner on a 5-on-3 and we go to overtime, where we dominate the ice, but the sun will shine on a dog’s asshole at least once a week, and that is the only explanation for Ty Conklin sending it to a shootout. Normally, I love ‘Hawks shootouts, except this is the equivalent of the fifth period against Detroit, so no one but Captain Marvel finds the back of the net and the Dead Wings win.
The pattern takes a shift on December 5th, 2008, with the ‘Hawks looking better in the first; two power play goals and skating rings around Detroit the entire period. We out shot, out hit and outplayed Scum. But here comes the second period and the ‘Hawks, despite getting a goal out of Nails, is skating slowly and making really poor choices in their own zone. When the third arrives, the ‘Hawks play very well, but Zetts Leto and Money Honey score, taking advantage of the only mistakes the ‘Hawks made in the third. Overtime comes and goes, again with Conklin, with a lot of help from Norris Lidstrom and Franzine, taking the game to a shootout. Guess what? Next period, no ‘Hawk finds the twine and Gadzooks scored the game winner.
Right now you’re saying, “Two points make a line, not a pattern.” And you are right. Now we see a real trend develop during the home-and-home that takes place on 30 December and 01 January. The first game goes exactly like October’s game, with the ‘Hawks flat in the first, mighty in the second (though the 4-0 score doesn’t show it, men of four feathers put on a great 2nd; go watch it and you’ll see), and failing miserably in the third. I’d recap, but I am getting both angry and lazy at this point, so do your own.
The Winter Classic, where the Blackhawks thumped Scum 3-1 in the first, dominating the ice and taking every shot imaginable. Second period? Ugh. In the third there were some signs of life, but it was too little too late at that point. We lost the only game I really wanted the team to win all year long. You can still hear the echo of my heart breaking as you walk around the north side of Chicago.
I am sure you all recall the last two games of the season, so I won’t recap; remember the lazy? And we have watched two playoff games where the pattern again emerges, ‘Hawks strong-weak-strong, yet still failing, in the last two games.
So what do we do about it? I am going to suggest something that goes against the grain of every one of us fans that have enjoyed the freewheeling play that out speedy and talented players have excited us with all season long. I think that, depending on how the first period goes for the ‘Hawks, we go with a trap in one of the following periods.
Should the boys start strong, in the second they stack four players in the neutral zone with one defenseman way back to get the dump-in. Play a game of get the dump, simple pass to the forward who dumps in with a one-man forecheck to keep Scum honest.
Should the ‘Hawks perform poorly in the first, go balls to the wall in the second. When the third period arrives, play the trap but give a little more guts, hopefully keeping the team alive into overtime, where the pattern will emerge and make us victorious.
Why in God’s name would I suggest the trap? Because the Wings struggle against it. The Dead Wings split their series with the Canucks, were one game over .500 with the Mild, and once Nashville adopted a more defensive, trap-style game, Detritus lost the next three matches against them (remember how you danced when you saw the 8-0 score? Remember?! I do! It was quite lovely.). These are teams that do not have our speed or depth in skill and scoring. In many ways, this team is very, very similar to the team that succumbed to Lemaire’s Devils in 1993; they play a similar style and are coached by a man who prays that some clerical error in his hospital of birth will be revealed, proving that Scotty Bowman is his real father. He is a coach who has difficulty figuring out how to beat a trap, which negates any opportunity to be gleaned from changing lines and other decisions made on the bench.
Since I know that Q reads my posts (why the hell shouldn’t he? I am right!), I hope I see him give the trap a shot on Thursday. If not, then he must figure out a way to get his team to skate for two periods straight against this rival, a task in which he has failed in six games out of eight. You would think that a guy who coached both St. Louis and Colorado would have a little more desire to stomp the fuck out of Detroit than he seems to have. In all honesty, I really don’t care what Q does so long as we get the opportunity to hear “Chelsea Dagger” until I am sick of it and chant “Detroit Sucks!” with some real credibility behind it.