The Finer Points of Underachieving

Here are the simple facts about the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks:

They needed to sweep this homestand, or at the very minimum take five of the six points that were available. They can't do that anymore.

They are four points out of eighth place, with three teams to leap over.  The12th place St. Louis Blues now sit one point behind them having played one fewer game.

The Hawks have to rip off a winning streak just to get their heads above water, because making up ground in Gary Bettman's Everybody-Gets-A-Trophy NHL where points are doled out like a malfunctioning ATM is very hard. That's the paper facts.

Also accompanying those paper facts is a team that on the stat sheet still looks like it should be pretty good. It features a lot of young stars, has a healthy goal differential and the league's second best power play. Add in a candidate for rookie of the year in goal and this team should be better.

But what makes Hawks fans' brains bleed is when those facts on paper are combined with what we see with our eyes. We see a team that simply finds a way to lose. We see a team that loses focus all too easily, and their captain and alternate captains freely admit that.

To be sure, most of the Hawks core can point to their numbers and say it's nothing to do with them. But we know better. The numbers might look good, but all of those guys were expected to take another step forward, as they had done every year of their career.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are at about where they were last year. Patrick Sharp is improving on his goals tally, but his defensive game has completely regressed. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson have definitely taken a step back, and in Keith's case it's the kind of step Neil Armstrong told us about.

When the Hawks depth was eroded through trades, GM Stan Bowman was counting on his leaders to do the heavy lifting every night, the kind that Toews, Kane, and Sharp did last night. But how often have we seen that?

The facts tell us that this season is very much alive. But our eyes tell us that the accomplishments required to make this season alive are not coming, and it seems pretty lifeless at the moment. And what really hurts is that the players themselves don't seem to care.

They tell us they know what's wrong, and yet we never see the problems fixed. They smile and carry themselves as if it will fix itself, because it has to right? No Cup champion misses the playoffs! What a ridiculous notion!

Well, you're about to see it, unless there's a radical, unforseen transformation from a team that doesn't think it needs one. How can that occur?

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