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Blackhawks’ ‘generous’ defense vexes Joel Quenneville

The Hawks have given up 14 goals including this one thgot by Corey Crawford Saturday last two games. | AP

The Hawks have given up 14 goals, including this one that got by Corey Crawford on Saturday, in the last two games. | AP

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Updated: December 22, 2011 8:16AM

EDMONTON, Alberta — Win or lose, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville typically judges his team by its defense.

He looks at the Hawks’ defensive positioning up front and on the blue line, the type and amount of opposition scoring chances and how much time the Hawks spend in the offensive end.

So while the Hawks’ humiliating 9-2 loss Saturday against the Oilers in frigid Edmonton didn’t look good on any front, in Quenneville’s mind it probably seemed like Armageddon.

“All I can say is that all the goals that we were giving up [Saturday] and in our losses are preventable,” forward Patrick Sharp said. “We know that. Our coaches know that. It’s on us as players to prevent them.”

Inconsistent special teams notwithstanding, the Hawks getting outscored 28-7 in their six regulation losses is probably the most troubling aspect of what has been a pretty good start overall.

As Quenneville likes to say, the Hawks have a tendency to be “generous” defensively, seeming to prefer to go back and forth with opponents in some games. Things snowball on them when they’re irresponsible defensively and force things offensively. Their last two games in Edmonton and Calgary have been prime examples.

“We all just need to focus on committing to playing the right way — the way we know how to play,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We can be better. It’s embarrassing, the last two games.”

Quenneville and Jonathan Toews wondered whether the Hawks felt they were better than they actually were after their four-game winning streak, looked past Calgary and Edmonton and left the door open for poor play.

“We know our effort has to be way better,” Toews said. “The way we played [Saturday] and [Friday] night is unacceptable. . . . I don’t know what it is, if we think that we’re better than we actually are and we think we can just go out there and play, and we’re going to pick up two points every night. We’re absolutely wrong there.”

Fingers will be pointed at Keith for his minus-8 rating over the last two games, and he took full responsibility after both losses. But getting outscored 14-4 in back-to-back games goes beyond one player. Against the Oilers, there were slow feet in the neutral zone, a lack of a sustained forecheck and no pulse on the penalty kill.

All of it deals with a lack of a commitment to defense.

“Collectively as a team, our system, we’ve got to tighten it up: [penalty kill], ‘D’-zone coverage and defending on the rush,” Quenneville said. “I’m not worried about the offense. It’s how we play without the puck. We have to get some pride back in our game, and it’s how we play without the puck.”

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