Key indicators paint dismal picture for Blackhawks’ porous defense
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org February 6, 2012 10:18PM
The Blackhawks are the only team that has not posted a shutout. “Everybody has got to want to play better,” goalie Ray Emery says. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
The facts: 8, CSN, 720-AM.
Updated: March 8, 2012 8:16AM
It didn’t take too long before the first Super Bowl analogy came out of the Blackhawks’ locker room Monday.
“If you look at the big picture, teams are going to have bumps like this,” defenseman Sean O’Donnell said, alluding to the Hawks’ five-game losing streak.
“If you’d ask the [New York] Giants in Week 10 or 12 how their season was looking, it wasn’t looking too good, and that turned out OK. You have to keep your eye on the big ball. Obviously, we need to fix some things, but the personnel is in this room.”
With 29 games left, the defense needs the most fixing. Here are the four most alarming indicators:
GOALS-AGAINST AVERAGE: 2.92
It doesn’t get any worse than the Hawks’ goals-against average. They are allowing 2.92 goals per game, which ranked 25th in the league entering Monday.
They’ve allowed 112 goals at even strength. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning had yielded more. The St. Louis Blues (58 goals allowed), Detroit Red Wings (79) and Nashville Predators (93), all battling the Hawks for the Central Division crown, have been much better.
Since the lockout, only the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes (3.15 goals-against average, 20th in NHL) have won the Stanley Cup with a worse average. Four of the last five champions have ranked in the top seven. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams, only the Hurricanes and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins (2.84, 17th) won the Cup with an average higher than 2.80.
“It is frustrating. No one wants to go out there and get scored against,” center Jonathan Toews said. “Of course, there are some things we have to focus on to stop that from happening.”
PENALTY KILL: 78.3%
The Hawks’ penalty kill — which has a 78.3 percent success rate — has compounded their problems. Since 2001, every champion has been over 81 percent. Only the 2009 Red Wings (78.3) were able to reach the finals with a similar mark as the Hawks’, but they lost to the Penguins.
The Hawks are allowing too many shots to reach their goalies. Their forwards don’t block many shots because their system puts an emphasis on the defensemen to clear pucks.
They’ve been short-handed only 166 times, the sixth-fewest entering Monday, but they’ve yielded 264 shots short-handed, the 11th-most. The defending champion Boston Bruins have been short-handed 183 times and have allowed 268 shots short-handed. The Hawks’ penalty kill at home has been worse at 77.5 percent.
“Collectively, we can all assume some responsibility,” coach Joel Quenneville said of the penalty kill.
Hits aren’t everything, and some stadiums inflate the numbers for their teams. At one point, the Hawks led the league in points without outhitting their opponents. And when the Hawks won the Cup, they had the sixth-fewest hits.
But for an organization that made it a point to sign more physical players, getting outhit in every game this season but five is disappointing. You get outhit when you control the puck, but the Hawks have struggled with puck possession, too.
The Hawks’ system doesn’t warrant excessive physical play, but players still should finish their checks and be strong on the forecheck. Also, Hawks defensemen rarely step into an opponent trying to enter their zone.
“It’s the way we play,” O’Donnell said. “I’m sure Detroit is outhit most games, too. It’s the personnel we have. We have more of a skilled team, an up-tempo team. But I think we can still get it down low, cycle them and grind them. We’re never going to be a team that runs the other team out of the building, but we can still play grinding hockey.”
The Hawks are the only team without a shutout. Since the lockout, every champion has had at least four. When the Hawks won the Cup, they had 11 in the regular season. The Bruins had 11 last year.
“Everyone has to look at themselves, and everyone has got to want to play better,” said goalie Ray Emery, who begins his campaign for the No. 1 job Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche. “I think it’s unfair to point the finger at one group of players, whether it’s defense, forwards or [goalies].”