With 42 games left, the season is basically half over. Yet, the Blackhawks continue to look like they are often playing preseason hockey games.
Some subtle, but highly impactful things, the Hawks are doing or failing to do, are keeping the team from playing to their potential and playing consistently.
Game Readiness: For nearly three years, the Hawks have struggled to play a full sixty minute game. Often, the Hawks start games slowly, and are dominated by their opponent in the first period. Whatever game prep the Hawks are doing individually and as a team, is not working. Really wonder what kind of mental training and visualization the players do.
Game Tempo: For all the gushing Hawk announcers were giving Vegas last night, their success was driven by three simple things: full-speed foot movement by every Golden Knight, never giving up on a play, and quick, decisive puck movement. Setting a team’s “foot tempo” happens in training camp and in practice. Really wonder what demands the coaching staff have made of the players to move with the effort, desire, and purpose Vegas does. Any team can move like Vegas did last night if the “foot tempo” is ingrained into the players’ playing DNA. And really wonder why the entire Hawk bench isn’t on an extremely short shift leash – including the Dmen.
Game Awareness: Poor in-game decisions often drive the poor play of the Hawks as a team. Things like players skating by their own bench only to decide moments later to go for a shift change when they reach their own zone. (A top talent player that is tired is nowhere near as effective defensively as an average player with fresh legs.) Players passing the puck to teammates who are going for a shift change and have their back to the play. Forwards passing the puck back into the Hawk zone to Hawk Dmen, who are gassed and in need of change. Hawk Dmen unable to execute simple D to D passing. Hawk Dmen constantly standing still with the puck in their own zone. Hawk Dmen constantly telegraphing passes. Hawk Dmen constantly slowing the game tempo down, instead of pushing the pace. Young Hawks who turn the puck over, but then compound their mistake by chasing the puck all over the Hawks defensive zone – leaving their man alone – and that man usually scores the goal for the other team. Really wonder what is driving some players’ decision-making.
Game Toughness: Like individuals, teams have an identity. But you would be hard-pressed to describe this year’s Blackhawks on-ice team identity. A team’s on-ice identity is forged by the collective psyche of Hawk players, coaching staff, and GM. A team without an on-ice identity is usually easy to play against. And far too often, the Blackhawks are easy to play against. Compete level doesn’t mean “meathead hockey” – it means that the team and each individual player is committed – together – to winning every shift. Blackhawk fans have not seen this kind of team commitment often enough. Really wonder about the endless hype of the billion dollar Blackhawk brand. Has the promotion of the “off-ice” team identity created unnecessary obstacles for the players to consistently play their best hockey?