Blackhawks’ words not matching their actions

Saying the right things is not the same as doing the right things.

The Chicago Blackhawks were saying all the right things following their wildly disappointing 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.

The Captain set the tone of the postgame media sessions, where the players were all self-critical:

Coach Joel Quenneville summed it up pretty well:

They say the right things after the game: that the effort wasn’t there, that they’ve got to try harder, that they know they can’t afford to waste any more game, etc. Forward Tommy Wingels said it perfectly after the game:

But the effort on the ice certainly doesn’t look like a team that’s fighting to stay above water. It doesn’t resemble a team that is going to be fighting for the next three months just to make the playoffs.

Watch this GIF of Mike Green’s goal, the one that put Detroit ahead 2-0. Green was the fourth player to join the attack for Detroit, which means that one of the two backchecking forwards should have been responsible for covering him. But as the play develops and Green gets wide open for the eventual goal, neither forward appears all that concerned with getting back on defense.

And then there’s the third goal of the game, which effectively put it out of reach. Look at all the room that Anthony Mantha, as the third Detroit player in on the play, has to fire this one past Glass.

While Mantha may move well for a guy who’s 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, a speed demon he is not. There’s just no excuse for Mantha having that much room to operate when a simple, dedicated backcheck would eliminate the time and space he needed to score that goal.

This isn’t how the Blackhawks’ system is supposed to work. The gap between the forwards and the defensemen is supposed to be so small that Chicago’s defensemen can step up to opposing players at the blue line and force them into a turnover or to give up possession by dumping the puck into the Hawks’ zone.

It’s supposed to look more like this, when the Hawks gap was so good at the D-men were able to step up at the Edmonton Oilers’ blue line, forcing a turnover that led to a goal:

I’ve always maintained that it’s virtually impossible to gauge a team’s temperament from the outside, as all of us who are not credentialed members of the media are. And even then, players likely aren’t going to say anything other than the usual hockey platitudes. But it just seems like something has been “off” with this team all season, and that lack of a consistent backcheck has always been high on the list of things that disappear when this team isn’t clicking.

And it keeps happening over and over again this season.