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Hawks taking stock at All-Star break, and it isn’t pretty

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



By today, the Blackhawks will have scattered for the All-Star break.

Defenseman Brian Campbell will head to Aspen, Colo., for a short vacation. Others, such as winger Viktor Stalberg, will make last-minute plans, while others will spend overdue time with their children.

It’s a chance to get away, to not think about hockey or dwell on all the problems of this season. Will Campbell even watch the All-Star Game?

‘‘I hope not,” he said, smiling. ‘‘I won’t be watching too much.’’

But while he and others will have time to relax physically and mentally, the Hawks’ All-Stars won’t.

Coach Joel Quenneville, forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp and defenseman Duncan Keith will be on their own to field questions about the Hawks’ unspectacular and unexpected 26-20-4 record when the U.S. and Canadian media descend this weekend on Raleigh, N.C.

Why have you struggled at the United Center? Why has your penalty kill dropped to the bottom of the NHL? Are your struggles because of a lack of chemistry? How have the new players fit in?

Why is the defense struggling? Why can’t the team put together a full 60 minutes? Are you guys tired? Which player do you miss the most from last season?

The scrutiny already has increased in Chicago. Doubts have set in, and finding answers has been a struggle. The Hawks often sound as baffled by their missteps as those who ask about them.

They say they’re still a good team in the making.

But it’s time to ask: Are they?

Fun times?

The Hawks are seventh in the Western Conference and face a tough road just to stay in the playoff hunt.

General manager Stan Bowman has said he won’t hesitate to make a trade to improve the team, consistently indicating that center and defense are two areas he’s always looking at. He won’t sacrifice the future, but making the playoffs and excelling in them still are expected. So there’s pressure.

Quenneville was asked after the Hawks’ last loss — 4-2 on Tuesday to the Minnesota Wild — if he would be able to enjoy All-Star weekend.

‘‘[It’ll] be a different mind-set when you’re there,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘When you’re there, you have to enjoy it. At the same time, it’s not the way we envisioned going into it.’’

That, of course, would be with back-to-back losses at home. This season has been a challenge, Quenneville admitted.

‘‘Every season and every game is different as a coach,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve had a lot of good days here the last few years. This year has had more tests as far as how we’re going to get back on track. I welcome that challenge.”

Soul-searching

The struggles have been tough to explain. It was thought that the Hawks would endure some of them, but this many?

One night, they play like the world-beaters they were last season. The next, they’re beaten by cellar-dwellers.

‘‘We show signs we’re ready to take off, then we lose back-to-back home games, which slows you down,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘You have to sit there and think, ‘What can we do better?’ That’s got to be our mind-set — that there’s ways of getting better.

‘‘When we play a fast-speed game, we’re much better. When we slow down and look for plays, we become victimized more by other teams being patient.’’

The only thing is, that speed disappears for stretches and sometimes for games.

Why? Maybe that’s a personnel question for Bowman.

Quenneville said these Hawks are comparable to last season’s, although many will argue they’re missing the in-your-face bravado provided by departed players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Adam Burish and Ben Eager.

‘‘As far as technically how we play, we have a very comparable team game,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘The pace of our game is the part we’re seeing some progress in. It kind of appears to be at the pace we had last year.”

There will be comparisons to the 2009-10 team this weekend. It’s inevitable. And the Hawks will try to deflect most of them. But there are plenty of negatives to inquire about right now.

Is it hard to have fun at the All-Star Game after such an up-and-down first 50 games?

That’s an easy one: Yes.



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