There are few coaches that are harder to please than Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, and after the Hawks fell to the St. Louis Blues by a 3-2 margin on Thursday night, he was his typical gruff self when asked about the team’s performance.
"Awful," he said in an excellent summation. "I didn’t like our game at all after the first 12 minutes."
Those first 12 minutes were really good for the Hawks, with the team scoring a goal on an excellent back-checking play by Marian Hossa that ended up with the puck on Brandon Pirri’s stick. The effort in that early stage of the game was largely paced by Pirri’s third line, which he centered with Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw on the wings. Not only did they maintain a high pace on offense, but they aggressively pursued the puck on defense and threw their weight around physically as well.
After that initial burst however, the Hawks went dormant in all areas. The lost puck battles along the boards may not have sat well with the Hawks or their fans, but it was the team’s horribly bad zone entries that really told the story. During one even strength stretch during the second period, the Hawks had five consecutive zone entries that did not result in any sort of sustained possession. The only shot they managed over that time was a weak shot by Joakim Nordstrom from the blue line that Jaroslav Halak took care of in short order.
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It didn’t seem to matter whether the Hawks decided to push the puck in themselves (Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews) or throw the puck in on a dump and chase, they couldn’t establish anything sustained in the offensive zone, and the results speak for themselves. In the time from 11:30 remaining in the first period to the end of the second period, the Blackhawks managed a grand total of six shots on goal.
That time included two different power plays, and even with the man-advantage, the Hawks couldn’t generate any quality chances because of a mixture of poor passing, bad shot selection, and, of course, awful zone entries by the second power play unit.
Just as worrisome is the team’s inability to score goals late in games. As ESPN Chicago’s Scott Powers points out, the team has only scored a goal in the third period in one game this season, and that was the opening night victory over the Washington Capitals. Outside of that, they have shown precious little punch in the final stanza, and because of that they are playing a slew of one-goal games against teams that they should be putting away with ease, like the Sabres and the Lightning.
Quenneville obviously was not pleased with the outcome of the game, and definitely wasn’t happy with the effort that his offense put forward, but he definitely deserves some of the blame for the failures. Not only did he repeatedly send Michal Handzus out on offensive zone draws (at one point, he lost three in a row), but his initial line tinkering saw Shaw come out on the ice with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
He seemingly ignored the fact that Saad had shown some great jump with those two players against the Buffalo Sabres, but the fact that Quenneville opted to send Shaw out, and to break up the only line that had shown consistent push in the game, was a bit of a head-scratcher.
It will be interesting to see what kind of changes that Quenneville will make to the lineup to counter the offensive woes that the team showed in the game, but there definitely needs to be something done if the team is going to keep pace in a Central Division that is running roughshod over the rest of the league.