Blackhawks have to figure out how to play like the Blackhawks
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com May 21, 2013 10:13PM
At Hawks 4
At Hawks 1
At Wings 3
7 p.m. Thursday
at Detroit, NBCSN
7 p.m. Saturday
at Hawks, Ch. 5
GAME 6 if necessary
GAME 7 if necessary
TBD next Wed.
Updated: June 23, 2013 6:37AM
The Blackhawks went the entire regular season without getting shut out, and only scored a single goal five times — three of them 1-0 victories. But in Games 2 and 3 against Detroit, the Hawks were held to one goal each night.
So what are the Red Wings doing right? They’re aggressively forechecking Hawks defensemen to prevent clean breakout passes. They’re keeping a tight gap on Hawks forwards in the neutral zone to break up the breakout passes that do make it through. And they’re pushing the Hawks out of the slot and out of the crease area, forcing low-percentage shots from the outside.
In short, they’re not letting the Hawks play like the Hawks.
“They’re forechecking well,” Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We just have to make quicker decisions back there and make good first passes. That’s what we’ve been doing all year long. That’s been a big key to our success during the regular season, so that’s something that we would like to find our way back to, and it’s just so much easier if you make a first good pass in your own end. You’re usually out of the zone pretty quick and you can spend more time in their end.”
The Hawks did get a few golden scoring chances in Game 3 — Viktor Stalberg had a goal disallowed and rang another shot off the crossbar, and Patrick Sharp had a mini-breakaway gloved by Jimmy Howard — but despite out-shooting the Red Wings 40-30, Howard wasn’t regularly threatened. As Detroit coach Mike Babcock pointed out, the Hawks had 15 shots in the first period, but very little of them came around the net.
“It seems like they are playing well in front of the net,” Michal Rozsival said. “They’re boxing out our forwards. They [force] a lot of shots from the outside. They’re blocking shots in front of the net. They are doing a good job and they are getting the bounces right now.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville shook things up in Game 3 to generate some offense, putting Sharp on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and moving Brandon Saad to the second line with Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane. Both Sharp and Saad seemed to have some extra hop in their step in their new roles, and Quenneville said those combinations could stay together, or the lines could be shaken up even further.
Toews and Saad have combined for no goals and three assists through eight playoff games.
Getting the power play on track would be a good start. The Hawks are just 3-of-22 in the postseason, ahead of only the Rangers among the eight teams still playing. But more than anything, the Hawks just want to play their style of hockey again, rather than dumping and chasing around a tenacious Red Wings defense.
“They do an extremely great job in the neutral zone,” Marian Hossa said. “We have to find a way to get a first pass from our zone to the players with the speed. We have to get open for our D, and find the puck they give us. We’ve been a puck-control team the whole season and right now it seems like we’re just trying to fire the puck away from our zone. We have to go back to our game.”
Added Sharp: “You’d like to score goals, no question about it. [But] I don’t think there’s any worry or panic in our locker room. We created a few chances, there were plenty of opportunities out there, we hit a couple of posts. The goals are going to come when you least expect them.”