Hawks’ dry spell prompts tweaks from Coach Quenneville
BY HERB GOULD For Sun-Times Media January 10, 2014 8:42PM
Chicago Blackhawks v Montreal Canadiens
The facts: 6 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.
Updated: February 12, 2014 6:16AM
Yes, the Blackhawks have some issues. They haven’t scored more than two goals in four of their last five games. They’ve won only one (1-1-2) in their last four, including a pair of shootout losses.
And after notching a point in 26 of 27 games, Patrick Kane has managed only one assist in the Hawks’ last five games.
It’s also legitimate to wonder if having 10 players skating extra shifts for their countries at the Olympics will extract a price come playoff time.
And while goalie Corey Crawford, a Montreal native, is looking forward to the Hawks’ first visit there since April 5, 2011, even that excitement can be accompanied by ticket and performance anxiety.
“There will definitely be a lot of people there, friends and family,’’ Crawford said after the Hawks worked out Friday at Johnny’s Ice House. “It’s always a special game. I was a little nervous the last time, but playing there once before will help me this time.’’
As the Hawks prepared for their game on hallowed ice in Montreal, these are what you’d call Rich Team’s Problems. For all the little worries, they are still in the thick of the Western Conference race with the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues. And they still have a roster well equipped to go as far it wants.
It would be understandable if an über-talented team that’s trying to string together back-to-back Stanley Cups wasn’t at the top of every game during a long season.
But complacency is not the problem, coach Joel Quenneville said.
“We’re coming off a couple games where we played OK,’’ he said. “We weren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. That was a disappointing point to give up to Rangers. All of a sudden, it looks like we’re off.
“We haven’t started with urgency [lately]. That changes your game when you give up an early goal and you’re playing from behind. We can be better. But I don’t think our group is the type of group that’s satisfied with being ordinary.’’
That said, Coach Q is tweaking things, and sending messages — especially on the faltering second line.
Brian Bickell, who has struggled since returning Dec. 17 from a knee injury, wasn’t moved up to the second line as a reward, Quenneville indicated.
It was a matter of “Let’s get going,’’ the coach said.
Bickell appreciates the support.
“He’s giving me the opportunity to [build] some confidence and get my game where it was,’’ Bickell said. “He believes in me, and I believe in myself. It wasn’t going good of late. This is an opportunity to get it back.’’
It’s a great opportunity since Bickell will be on the ice with Kane, an ice magician.
“He looks like has a string with that puck,’’ Bickell said. “It never comes off his stick. He can find open ice and plays you wouldn’t even expect. I just need to give him the puck and go to the net.’’
With defense-oriented center Marcus Kruger in between Bickell and Kane, Quenneville could have a recipe for chemistry.
‘‘Kaner wants the puck, and we want him to have the puck,’’ Kruger said. “I need to play my game and do my thing. But everyone knows how good he is. If it’s me and Bicks out there with him, we’re going to try to give him some space.’’
It’s possible that playing in a hockey mecca such as Montreal will give the Hawks the spark they seek. Either way, Crawford said he’s not feeling more pressure to stone opponents for an offense that has been groping.
‘‘That doesn’t even come into my mind,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re creating chances. We just have to keep battling and playing our game.’’