What Ails the Blackhawks?

So what had to happen for the Blackhawks to get back into their series with LA on Monday night? If you believe what the papers from both towns say, Patrick Kane had to get it going.

He didn’t, though others did. Still, it wasn’t enough as the Blackhawks dropped a 5-2 game to the Kings and now face elimination in their own arena Wednesday. It’s feeling a bit like a done deal, but like Justin Williams of LA said after Monday’s game: “I don’t think it’s hard at all not to look ahead. Every team has been in positions where they’re down, and that can make them better. . . . We just know that we don’t want to be in that position, but character comes out a lot more when your backs are against the wall. That’s why the games get harder, every game you win. Going into game five, we’re obviously going to try our best to finish it off.” In other words, it’s not going to be automatic, which is what you might think looking at how they handled the Blackhawks at Staples Center.

What happened to Chicago?

Someone got it going for the team in period one, but it wasn’t Kane. It was Marian Hossa. They problem was that even with him doing that, the Hawks as a whole didn’t have anything to offer LA. The Kings outscored them by a total of three goals (to none) in the first frame, with just eight shots recorded in so doing.

Yet for everything the Hawks did well, they did something dumb. Hossa was in the slot all period. Early on during a power play, a point shot came from Sharp, and Hossa found a rebound for a bloop shot. Quick grabbed it. But on the same shift, Hossa gave the puck away at the blueline. Late in the period, Sharp sent a diagonal pass to him and Hossa ripped a shot on Quick, who made a blocker save. Well and good, but the first goal had been his fault, as he had crossed through the crease and whacked Quick on the head to draw a penalty that Jake Muzzin scored on.

He wasn’t the only one with problems. The Hawks were offside at the LA blueline on the power play. They had a puck stripped (from Duncan Keith) to allow for the Kings’ second goal. And altogether in the period, they allowed two power play goals on two Kings’ chances with the extra man.

Hossa did fire a shot from the slot late in the period that looked dangerous, and the stats on the period showed that of the seven shots the Hawks took, he had three of them. No other player had more than one.

But still, where was Kane? Well, in period one, he had no stats recorded on the official sheet except for time on ice, of which he had a bunch: 7:32. What’d he do with it?

Same thing as he did in period two. At least on the scoresheet, he was held off. My personal iso-cam revealed the following about his game: he’s trying, but no one’s giving him much help. He made a weak jab at a loose puck at the boards in his own end and saw Kopitar take the puck. He was on a power play and cruised across the slot with his stick down on the ice, but no pass came to him.

He took a shot from the high slot, but it was easily blocked by the crowd in front. He was in the mid-slot with his stick raised waiting for a pass. The puck came out from Bickell near where he was, but not to Kane, and the Kings swallowed it up.

So if you look at that, you can see that Kane was trying, and the numbers at the end of the period bear that out. Rather than the straight run of zeros he’d had after one, he had a string of ones: one shot, one attempt blocked, one missed shot, one giveaway. But again, no production.

The issue wasn’t so much him as that one person can’t do it without help, and nobody was able to get him the puck when he needed it. Why didn’t he just carry it the length of the ice? That goes back to what the Kings have said they’d do, and what they’ve in fact done, which is shut him down by playing him tight, staying on him, getting that little bump in that harasses him.

After the game, standing in front of his dressing stall, he looked positively downcast. He talked at length, but he had no answers for why the team is frustrated. “We all know that we’ve done it before, so we have to try and win the next game and see what happens.” That was near the start. He later talked about other matters, commenting on the slow start, getting down 3-0 and having a weak power play.

“We’ll keep trying to do the right things, five-on-five . . . and try to come out with some success.” He said he was not frustrated and talked about going home to the crowd in Chicago. He also commented on confidence, “We’ve just got to find it. It doesn’t help when you get off to the start we did tonight.” He did say, “We feel that we can beat anyone.”

When he finally got around to talking about his personal frustrations (in period three, he had another shot, another shot attempt blocked, but also another giveaway), he said, “They’re doing a good job of taking away space, and when you go through that, you want to work as hard as you possibly can and just try to look for any type of breaks you can. There’s still some chances to get on the offense and make some plays, and it’s just up to me to do it.”

Period three brought about a much greater effort from the visitors. It was almost like their coach had told them between two and three that their season was on the line. Check that. Of course he didn’t. He didn’t have to. Chicago had their first goal at fourteen minutes of period two, and they took until ten (nearly) of P3 to get the second. They then took over the game, working the Kings over and testing Quick with low shots that he made leg saves on. They pulled goalie Crawford with about three minutes to go and then largely controlled play, but LA had a two-goal lead and could afford some tries at th empty net. The one that went in was about the third or fourth, and it came with 1:02 left, sealing it for LA.

They Hawks were, in fact, better in both periods two and three than they had been in the first, and LA Coach Sutter reflected that fact in his post-game comments. When asked how his team could put Chicago away, he said, “We’ll have to play a hell of a lot better than we did tonight. We had really good special teams and a really good start.” But that latter is deceptive. It was answered in response to a question about what he did not like about the game. The answer essentially was, “everything except these two elements.”

When pressed, he said, “I think our five-on-five play certainly could be better. I know it can be better.” When asked if there was anything else, he said, “That’s a lot.”

The Chicago coach had a similar read on things: “In the last two games [two and three] we had a great forty minutes and the last twenty killed us. Tonight we started out decently, but they scored early. That got them going. But I thought we fought back in the second half of the game. We got some good looks and some good zone time. Things to be excited about for next game.”

Meanwhile, the Kings, having found the lineup that works, kept rolling it as the periods went along. The lines are solidified and the contributions are coming from everyone. The Kings got five goals including an empty-net one, and all were from different players. Two were first-line players, Gaborik and Brown, though Brown got his on the PP. Two were defensemen, Doughty and Muzzin. And one came from the youngster, Pearson, which was the empty-net goal that happened with just over one minute to go.

But as suggested, Chicago came on steadily. They had seven shots in period one, but 17 in the next two. They were on the defensive in terms of being shorthanded twice in each of the first two periods, including at the end of the second, but LA could not score.

Don’t take lightly the opportunity that the Kings have. Last year, they lost game five in this round to this same team to be eliminated. Williams, for one, hasn’t forgotten. “Winning is tough, and sometimes you have to lose again to get that fire back, and last year stuck with me for a long time. Losing game five, and we had the Cup, and they knocked us out, and took it. Knowing that a team got the better of us doesn’t sit well with me.”

Nor with others on his team, one would surmise, and that’s what might motivate them in Illinois on Wednesday night, despite Sutter’s admonition that they must play one game at a time. “Don’t look behind; don’t look ahead,” he said at the first of his comments.

Notes

The Kings have outscored opponents 53-30 since being down 0-3 to San Jose.

They are 8-0 when leading after two periods.

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