Decoding The Speech
Well I hope we've calmed down a bit. After a missive last night, I wanted to come back today and try and decipher what we're hearing from the team and others and what that really means. I think people tend to forget this is an Original 6 city, and that we don't need to be Hockey 101'ed to death. Some things I hear on the broadcast and after games:
-Constant harping on the hit stats. This really grinds my gears. It's only slightly because hit stats are about as objective as Lovie Smith's staff doling out tackling numbers for a game (did you know Lance Briggs had 387 tackles on Monday? Me either). They are subjective to what arena you're in on a given night. See how inflated Cal Clutterbuck's numbers get? He's not that big of a nutcase.
But that's only a small portion of it. I'm not trying to argue that the Hawks are physically taking it to anybody these days. Certainly that isn't the case. But when did they ever? The Keenan Hit or Die Hawks have been gone close to 20 years. Two years ago? I don't recall that team being a slobbering bunch of road graters. But we didn't care because the Hawks always had the puck. They didn't need to stand out on the hit chart. They made teams pay for trying to do that.
So what are people really saying when they harp on that? If it's a lack of a forecheck, then that's a completely valid point. They could just say that. The Hawks do have a forechecking problem. There aren't a lot of grave-diggers here. Because the Hawks can't possess the puck as much as they want to think they can right now, they have to get it back a lot. And they struggle to do that. Maybe it's scheme, maybe it's personnel, maybe it's both, but I see a lot of easy clears and breakouts for opponents. And the top three lines just don't come with too many of those. Early in the year when Bryan Bickell remembered how large he was, he was creating one. One of the big reasons that line was so effective. Maybe his scratching will remind him, it has before.
Above that? It is an issue. Marian Hossa is a great forechecker, but he has so many other skills that you hesitate to restrict him to that. That's why the pairing of Hossa and Toews appeal, as they can combine to do the work. I want Viktor Stalberg to be that guy, but he isn't, or at least isn't yet. At least this year he's trying. it's an issue for sure. So if that's what everyone referring to when talking about hit, then I'd request they just say that. i understand the calls for Ben Smith, because that's a strength of his game. And when there's room for him, that will probably happen. But it's not the cure-all
If it's just a desire for the Hawks to run around and be the Blues most nights and think winning the hit race is winning the game, then that's not going to help anyone. I know it satisfies some primal urge deep within us that like to belch and scratch, but it's not really an answer here. Maybe a couple clearances of the Hawks crease is in order, sure, but those don't end up on the hit chart anyway.
-"We need to keep it simple." Duncan Keith said this about the power play last night, but it could have been anybody at any time. We've all heard this refrain before. What does that mean? Well, we've all complained about the insistence on the backdoor play. It's covered. But why is it? It's more than scouting. As always, I'm behind the Fifth Feather on this, but why was that play always open last season? Maybe it had something to do with the repeated drives to the net that Jonathan Toews engineered from the goal line extended. You remember those? In fact, if I recall correctly (and I very well may not be thanks to a misspent youth) a lot of those backdoor goals that Sharp pounded home were actually rebounds and scrambles off Toews coming to the crease. Teams had to cheat toward him, then they tried simply cutting off the pass to Toews which Kane used to his advantage to make that pass around that vacated lane. If the Hawks won't change their system -- and considering the ox-like stubborness they've exhibited, the won't -- they should probably get back to this.
-"Compete level". Gets back to the whole "flat" cop out that I think we're all tired of. I heard the same things last year at this time. Then it was the fault of a quiet dressing room. That's apparently not a problem this season. So what is it? I think it has a lot to do with the first problem up top of this post. When teams aren't letting the Hawks skate all over them from the jump, they have a hard time creating that Big Mo other ways. Again, the forecheck. It can look like lack of emotion, in reality it's just a lack of creating chances that leads to a bit of lethargy.
But what if it is a lack of motivation or desire for the second straight year? ti's the same coach, same captain. What are we to make of that? So either all of that means there's a room full of players who don't care who can't be reached, there's a captain they don't seem to respect, or the team is tuning out its coach to some extent. Pretty sure it's not the second one there. What is it?