Well, what seemed like a season from a dream has turned into a nightmare for the Blackhawks. The President’s Trophy winners are now just one more loss away from being eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semifinals. Most people were expecting this team to at least make the Stanley Cup Finals, if not win the whole thing. Now, the Hawks could be on the wrong side of one of the biggest upsets in NHL postseason history.
After running over the Wings in Game 1 of this series, the Blackhawks have lost 3 straight for the first time all season. Also for the first time this season, the Blackhawks were shutout in Game 4 by a score of 2-0. This is not the best time for them to be running into a string of “firsts.” In these last 3 losses to the Red Wings, the Blackhawks have looked tired, frustrated, bad, and even really good at times. Most of all, they haven’t been able to score.
After ending the season as the highest scoring team in the West, the Blackhawks have scored just 2 goals in their last 3 games. Considering it is the playoffs, that is unacceptable. What’s also unacceptable is their power play, or lack there of. The Blackhawks have had 25 power plays this postseason, and they have only scored on 3 of them. In Game 4 against Detroit, the Blackhawks were given three power plays and only managed to get a combined one shot on goal. One of those power plays came with about 5 minutes left in regulation with the Wings leading 1-0, and the Hawks failed to register a shot. Those power play numbers are flat out embarrassing and a disgrace, which leads me to my next topic.
While the Hawks are not yet technically eliminated from the playoffs, they don’t stand a very good chance of advancing past this round. Stan Bowman said at the trade deadline that he felt confident in the “group” (meaning the Blackhawks) and that no big changes/trades were needed to help their chances in the postseason. I, along with many other Hawks fans, felt that Bowman was entirely wrong and couldn’t be further from the truth. Watching this team during the regular season, it was clear that they needed a true number 2 center and possibly even a bigger, more physical winger or two. So what did Bowman do? He traded for Michal Handzus who was a regular healthy scratch for the San Jose Sharks. His reasoning? Handzus was good at faceoffs.
If you look at the Blackhawks’ biggest weaknesses in this series against Detroit, their inability to win faceoffs might be their most glaring one (aside from the power play). For the playoffs, the Blackhawks have won 48 percent of their draws, which is not good. Michal Handzus, Stan Bowman’s “big” acquisition at the deadline, has won 46 percent of his faceoffs. If he isn’t winning faceoffs, Handzus is a worthless player who can’t skate, has no offensive ability, and refuses to use his 6’5″ frame to his advantage. Basically, he should be benched. My point here is that for the past 3 seasons, Stan Bowman has stated at the trade deadline that he “likes the team the way it is” and that no upgrades via trades are needed. How has that philosophy worked out for you Stan? Take a good look at Pittsburgh, Boston, or even L.A. (all 3 of which are poised to advance to the next round). All three teams addressed their needs at the trade deadline by making bold moves to acquire players such as Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Jaromir Jagr, and Robyn Regehr, and each move has paid off. If the Blackhawks do not advance to the next round, or even the Stanley Cup, then someone needs to really evaluate Bowman and his position within the organization.
Another thing to look for if the Hawks don’t advance is changes to the coaching staff. The Blackhawks’ power play, as I already stated, is pathetic. There is WAY too much talent on this team for their PP to be so bad. While some of the blame obviously belongs to the players, I believe a lot of it should fall on the coaching. Not once have I seen the Blackhawks try using a different power play system to get things rolling. They constantly try skating the puck into the offensive zone where they then have it stripped at the blue line. Can’t Quenneville or Jamie Kompon (their power play coach) look at video of the Penguins, Sharks, or even the team they’re playing right now, the Wings, and see how these other teams are being successful? Maybe they are, but it sure as heck doesn’t appear so. The bottom line is this. Jamie Kompon has not done the job that he was hired by Quenneville to do: make the power play better. Kompon was highly criticized in L.A. the last few seasons for this same reason before he was eventually let go. Still, Quenneville chose to replace Mike Haviland with him, and therefore Quenneville should be questioned as well.
With the way things are going right now, all signs are indicating that the Blackhawks will not advance past this round. If that comes true, then the organization as whole needs to be reevaluated and the proper changes need to be made. Whether it is the players, management, and/or coaching staff, someone is not doing their job. This team is good, but could have been made better. This team also has a ton of talent, but it isn’t all being utilized by the coaching. While I still believe that it is entirely possible for the Hawks to win Game 5 on home ice, I am not too confident that they will win 3 in a row against a very good Detroit team.
If this team doesn’t advance, pay close attention in the following weeks to any changes that will be made.