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Experts come to Joel Quenneville’s defense

Hawks captaJonathan Toews’ productihas declined significantly during team’s losing streak. | Getty Images

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews’ production has declined significantly during the team’s losing streak. | Getty Images

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The facts: 6, CSN, 720-AM.

Updated: March 17, 2012 10:28AM

NEW YORK — Maybe Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville saw it coming. Or maybe he had just had enough.

When he became the topic for the fifth day in a row, Quenneville answered a reporter before the question was finished.

“There are moments that you want to make sure to be hard on guys, and there are times you’ve got to be supportive,’’ Quenneville said Wednesday. “Right now, we want to be supportive and encouraging.”

Despite words of praise from general manager Stan Bowman and his stars, Quenneville could probably use some of the same support and encouragement he’s doling out. He has endured most of the criticism for the Hawks’ dramatic fall and nine-game losing streak.

“I’m sure the criticism will bother him in some shape or form,” former NHL coach and friend Marc Crawford, whom Quenneville considers a mentor, told the Sun-Times.

“[But] he’s been through that before in Colorado and in St. Louis. He’s a smart veteran coach. He knows they’re a win away from turning this around.”

Coaches Mike Babcock (Detroit Red Wings), Barry Trotz (Nashville Predators) and Dave Tippett (Phoenix Coyotes) said it’s unfair to suggest that Quenneville be fired. If anything, the Hawks’ free fall has been baffling.

“I’ll say this, when you win, coaches get too much credit, and when you lose, you get too much blame,” Trotz said. “I don’t know all the criticism they’re giving him, but I know he’s one of the best coaches in the NHL. They’re just going through a dry patch.”

Criticism and firings are part of the job for NHL coaches. But the idea that Quenneville is solely to blame for the Hawks’ woes is overblown, Tippett said.

“It’s funny when you coach that long, and all of a sudden people think you’ve just forgotten everything you’ve learned over the last 20 years,” said Tippett, a close friend of Quenneville’s and a former teammate. “It’s a volatile business, but you’ve got to look at the big picture, not just the last nine games.”

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire said injuries have played a huge role in the Hawks’ downfall, particularly the loss of Daniel Carcillo. Crawford said the Hawks are a “defenseman away from being a real serious contender,” while better goaltending would go a long way.

“One correct defenseman can put everybody else in the right spot,” Crawford said. “It doesn’t mean that [Nick] Leddy has to play an exorbitant amount. It doesn’t put as much strain on [Duncan] Keith or [Brent] Seabrook. [Niklas] Hjalmarsson can be what he is instead of a guy who has to manufacture more. And again, the goaltending solves so many problems.”

In general, Quenneville has been criticized for the Hawks’ defensive woes. He said there are plenty of things he’d do differently.

“The only thing fair for coaches is that they’re fair game,” McGuire said. “I remember working for [Hawks senior adviser] Scotty Bowman in Pittsburgh when he was appointed the head coach of the Penguins after the late Bob Johnson. . . . I said, ‘How do feel about having the interim tag on your name?’ [Bowman] goes, ‘What are you talking about? Every single coach in this league is interim.’

“That being said, Joel knows injuries are a very real part of this thing. So he’s got to come up with schemes to try to make the team better, especially when it comes to special teams. But I don’t think Joel Quenneville should be fired.”

A bad losing streak is also a time when a coach can make a big impact.

“Your team is always listening when times are tough,” Crawford said. “I know Joel is smart enough to recognize that. He can really be impactful for his team right now because they’re looking for help.”

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