Standing in front of Jonathan Toews in the Chicago dressing room on Saturday in LA, what came to mind in the aftermath of their come from behind spanking of the Kings was this: What makes this team so bad this year?
The thought was the result of knowing how they can explode—four goals in the final period against a team that’s usually very good defensively—and seeing the physically imposing figure of Toews. I’ve interviewed him before, usually in the scrum, but I’d never noticed the size, the musculature, and the confidence that comes with that. He might be mild-mannered, but there’s a body there that could be nasty if provoked.
Funny enough, a day later, in Anaheim, he was, as he and Ryan Kesler had a fight at eight seconds of the second period. That means they’d agreed to it, and that’s exactly what Kesler said.
“I’ve battled against those guys for eight-plus years. It’s fun, but it’s obviously a bit of a rivalry.” And on the fight, he said, “I asked him for eight years; he finally accepted, so (laughs), you gotta give him credit. He stood in, and he manned up, so that was good to see. Obviously, it was good to see. He’s a great player and a pretty good fighter.”
I’m not a psychoanalyst, but there are a couple of things that come to mind: What kind of animals are these people? And how do you dispassionately and distantly analyze your own violent actions in the aftermath of such an event? It’s almost sociopathic. But that’s talk show wisdom, not an expert opinion.
Say it another way: if that’s the game, then Toews is both physically and emotionally capable of playing it. And to circle back to the point, I ask why, with leadership like that, do the Blackhawks falter?
What doesn’t add up? Consistency. A team that makes the playoffs is, more than anything else, consistent (the Ducks’ come-from-way-back miracles of the past could of years notwithstanding). They play the same way day-in and day-out. They always make the smart play. They are unflappable.
Toews is that. He was asked whether he knows what the heck goalie interference is now on the back of a play that had been reviewed on Saturday, and he said, “I’m not gonna say anything, in case I risk being, saying something controversial, but it’s funny . . . .” He’s just not going to break form, and that applies to his on-ice play also.
But what Toews alone cannot do is mind both ends of the ice at all times, and thus is was that the Blackhawks found themselves down 2-0 early on Sunday in Anaheim.
Ryan Getzlaf was returning from the flu. He recorded two assists within the first six minutes. Rakell scored the first goal. He leads the team by a mile with 27, and the scoring race, too (27-27-54). Perry got the second on a move that might be unique in the history of the NHL. You remember the Savardian Spin-O-Rama? This was the Perrian Pirouette. He went from the right side of the net, spinning as he went, and put the puck in on a wrist shot.
The first goal was on the power play. Anaheim’s numbers coming in showed them sitting bottom sixth in that category.
Who was on the ice for Chicago for the second goal? Guys you’ve never heard of. Kampf. Highmore. Oesterle. And Sharp (OK, you’ve heard of him. But he was on). What are those guys (Sharp excepted) doing playing the Getzlaf line down 1-0 early? Answer that back this way: look at the Chicago roster, as a casual fan. You’ll find a lot of names that don’t appear all that familiar, if at all familiar. That’s the price of those three Cups.
But the real issue is the fact that Perry is left alone like that, with all the space in the world, to get where everybody on the ice knows already he’s going. That’s not going to do if you want to win games. This defensive lapse was only surpassed the day before when two egregious giveaways paced two of the Kings’ goals. That will be forgotten because Chicago won, though.
Sunday, the Ducks gave the Hawks their chances. They had two power plays in the first period. (They’re near the bottom of the league in success in that category.) Anaheim had allowed just one PP goal against in the past 10 games and was riding a 0-for-19 streak. The second power play showed their lack of skill in this category. The Blackhawks were easily cleared from the zone three times in a row in the second of those opportunities. They scored on neither.
Perhaps Chicago was tired, perhaps emotionally exhausted from their win in LA. But out of their own mouths came the words, yesterday, that said that they knew that they had to keep the hammer down.
Vinnie Hinostroza commented, for instance, “It felt really good to come from behind to win that one. Being in the locker room, everyone’s excited for tomorrow, come back and start the game out how we finished that one.” Only they didn’t play like that, at all.
After their loss to the Ducks, Toews diagnosed the problem as essentially the opposite of that: “I think the guys played really well later on in the second period and even in the third. We were hunting pucks down. We wanted that puck and traffic. We were taking hits to make plays. I think we played the way we needed to for half the game. We probably felt we would have had a better result if we had started with that same impact and same emphasis.”
Right. That’s what both you and the Hinostroza kid said yesterday. How short is the team’s collective memory?
The Ducks ended up one period ahead 2-0. They got up by four, but they ended period two ahead 4-1. Before it was too long into the third, they were up 4-2. See a pattern here, especially if you’re familiar with Saturday’s come-from-behind win by the Chicago team?
Chicago takes a while to get going. You can’t do that and win a lot of games, though sometimes the magic happens. Not this day, though.
One thing that might have sparked the comeback was the switch in goalies for period three. JF Berube found himself in net. But even that had to be a statistically iffy move. He has been in three games for the Blackhawks this season. His latest, he made it through forty minutes and six goals against. The second, he played the sixty and allowed but one. The first, way back on December 6th, he played just under 45 minutes in relief, faced 14 shots, and allowed two goals. Sunday, he allowed the same number of goals on ten shots. This was offset by the two goals the Blackhawks scored on John Gibson in period three, to make the game 6-3 at the end.
Both Perry and Silfverberg recorded two goals. Both were out in the few minutes ending the game with a four-goal, later three-goal, lead, taking potshots at the empty net. No hats were thrown.
Silfverberg said of his play, “We’ve had a few guys, me included, that haven’t been able to find the back of the net consistently. Hopefully, this gets me going. We need everyone, especially at this time of the year. These were two big periods for us.”
So what’s wrong with Chicago? Not leadership. Not goal scoring even—lots of times, teams win 3-2 in this league. Defense. Goaltending. Fatigue. And to go back to the keyword, consistency.
Here’s Coach Quenneville’s analysis: “We had some stretches yesterday that were pretty consistent. Today, we had a good stretch for about ten minutes in the second period. Other than that whether it was gap or puck possession, or puck management from the back end, I think as a group, it is not good enough. I think the other team is in the playoff mode. I thought there was a good response, but in the first period there, we were lucky it was only two [goals].”
Doesn’t matter. You have to do what you say, and play from the start of the game. Consistency.
Anaheim, meanwhile, is on a bit of a tear. The win extended the Ducks’ home point streak to eight games (6-0-2, 14 standings points) and tied their season high in goals (fourth time, last: Jan. 23 against the New York Rangers). The Ducks are 6-1-1 in their last eight games and have posted a 2.00 goals against in that stretch, which is tied for the league lead. The club is also 19-8-4 mark in the last 31 contests. At Honda Center, Anaheim is 8-2-2 in its last 12 games.
This story written using team-provided media information.
The Ducks next play Washington on Tuesday. Chicago goes part way back east, playing Colorado that same night.