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A must-fix list for Hawks in second half

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Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville didn’t pause when asked to name the most frustrating thing about the first half of the season.

‘‘Without question, the number of games where we were tied in the third period and came up with no points,” he said.

The Hawks have only 45 points and a 21-17-3 record at midseason, and late-game struggles are one of the many reasons why.

‘‘I still think we have a good team,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. ‘‘I know we’re not where we want to be, but there’s a lot of teams that are separated by a few points. It’s going to be a tight race. It’s important for us to be getting two points, at least one point, in every game.’’

That being said, here are some things the Hawks need if they’re going to succeed in the second half:

Third-period poise

The Hawks too often have failed to get the key goal, whether on the power play or at even strength, and have allowed 48 goals in the third period, the most in the NHL. They’ve lost 11 games by one goal.

‘‘It’s a situation at this point where there are signs of improving in that area,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘That’s how we become a better team, when the games are on the line.’’

Killer’s mentality

The Hawks’ power play has been great — the best in the league — but the penalty kill has been porous and has looked lost at times. Though Brian Campbell has been willing, finding a defenseman to replace Brent Sopel has been tough. Injuries up front also have hurt.

‘‘We have to keep working at it,’’ Campbell said. ‘‘It’s never going to be easy. . . . We have to keep making strides in that category.’’

A consistent Kopy

If Tomas Kopecky is going to get top-six minutes and play on both special teams, he has to handle himself like a top-six forward, regardless of whether he plays with Marian Hossa. Fewer penalties and better consistency are a must. Kopecky had a 17-game stretch where he had only two points.

‘‘He’s been very good in a lot of ways,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘One of the reasons why our power play has been consistent is because of where he goes. . . . Five-on-five, that’s an area we can shore up as a team and individually. He’s showing progress in a lot of good areas.’’

A better blue line

With Keith, Campbell Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson back, the Hawks’ defense was considered their biggest strength, but that hasn’t been the case every game.

Mistakes and inconsistent play from those players and others, such as Nick Boynton, have marred things. But the Hawks should ride their ‘‘fab four’’ the rest of the way. They are much better players than they have demonstrated recently, and the puck-possession game depends on what they do.

‘‘It seems like a lot of times when we have the puck, we’re throwing it away and throwing it back to [opponents],’’ Keith said.

Steady health

Injuries have hindered progress and chemistry, especially up front. Line combos have changed frequently, and a lot of players have had to play different roles. Injured Hawks missed a total of 61 games in the first half.

‘‘It would be nice to have some predictability in our lines and some rotation, where all of a sudden we’re at the pace where we keep bringing it,’’ Quenneville said.

The Hawks enter the second half fully healthy.

Back in contact

Last season, the Hawks made it a point to initiate physical play and aggravate opponents. This season, they seem to be enduring it. No one wants to fight towering defenseman John Scott, but teams still are taking runs at the best players.

The more physical the Hawks are — pushing opponents off pucks in corners or battling for space in front of goalies — the better off they’ll be.

‘‘I don’t think we’ve reached our potential here yet,’’ Keith said.



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