The Chicago Blackhawks have been a difficult team to figure out in recent weeks, and Wednesday’s loss to the Vancouver Canucks perfectly encapsulated the wild variations in effectiveness and competence that the team has experienced lately.
The game saw plenty of passes slide well wide of their intended targets, but it also saw some excellent tape-to-tape passes on the power play. Plenty of shots sailed wide of Eddie Lack, providing odd-man rushes the other way for Vancouver, but then others were precisely placed and screens were taken advantage of.
Needless to say, “consistency” is not a word that can be attributed to the Blackhawks’ play in recent weeks, and perhaps the area where that is most apparent is on the defensive side of the puck, as Wednesday’s game provided even more evidence that something has to be done about the team’s struggling blue line corps.
The Canucks’ first goal of the evening gives a sterling example of the type of poor discipline and sheer carelessness that has plagued the Hawks. The Blackhawks were trying to move the puck out of the zone, and Johnny Oduya had an initial turnover.
The Hawks seemed to be ready to get the puck back despite the miscue, and Michal Rozsival bolted out of the defensive zone. Unfortunately for Chicago, Patrick Sharp ended up losing the puck battle along the boards, and he and Oduya were forced to defend a 4-on-2 odd-man attack, and Linden Vey ultimately potted a goal to tie the game at 1-1.
There is something to be said for a team that uses their defensemen aggressively in starting the play the other way, but what Rozsival did on the play is simply unacceptable. He assumed that Sharp was going to get the puck along the boards and put his head down to skate away. In a situation like that, with three Canucks players still in the zone, Rozsival has got to stay back and help protect the zone, and he abdicated his responsibility on the play.
The Canucks’ second goal of the game wasn’t much better. After the puck bounced off the boards behind the net and toward the Hawks’ goal, Corey Crawford went to try to cover the puck up to force a face-off. Instead, David Rundblad panicked and slapped the puck away, giving the Canucks a fresh possession.
After a Ronalds Kennis shot was blocked down in front a few moments later, Rundblad compounded his original mistake and whiffed on a back-handed clearing attempt. Bo Horvat ultimately got the puck and fired a shot past Crawford to make it a 2-1 contest just under seven minutes into the second period.
That play saw two bad decisions by Rundblad, and both are worthy of scrutiny. An argument can be made that Rundblad was trying to clear the puck away to keep one of the Vancouver forwards from getting it out, but he has to have the awareness to know that Crawford is going down to cover the puck up.
The clearing attempt was another instance where an argument can be made that Rundblad’s error wasn’t all that bad, but he can also be dinged for not doing a better job of boxing Horvat out in front of the net, so either way it’s sliced, the defenseman still made an error.
These players are obviously human and are going to make mistakes, but it feels like the Blackhawks’ miscues in recent games haven’t been isolated incidents.
It feels like the bottom half of the blue line corps (Oduya is certainly included with Rozsival and Rundblad in this discussion) has been fighting the puck lately, and things need to be turned around in a hurry for the Hawks if they’re going to go into the playoffs with a realistic chance of winning a Stanley Cup.