Monday, February 15, 2010
Heading Into the Break
The Blackhawks started off the year strong. REALLY strong. However, they've tailed off lately. Here are my strategies for fixing their problems over the break and down the road.
Everyone is talking about this in Chicago. It seems that the Blackhawks have all the pieces, yet a solid goalie eludes them. Going into this year, I knew that Cristobal Huet wasn't gonna cut it. In fact, when I heard that Niemi was the back up, I said that he would become the starter before the year's end. Has it happened? Not officially, but Niemi has started the last four games, so you tell me. The Blackhawks have won their last four games also; so does that mean that Niemi is our answer. No.
Niemi is good for a rookie. I think he's shocking a lot of people, but he's not a solid starter. Niemi is REALLY good when he's had a long break. It becomes problematic when the Hawks start him 4 times in a row. Notice, the last 3 games have gone to a shootout. Granted, we won those games, but Niemi gave up 3, 4, and 4 goals respectively in those games. This just isn't a satisfactory GAA.
Some may argue that Huet isn't doing much better. However, in the three game losing skid, 4 of the 9 goals Huet allowed were re-directs. You can really expect a goalie to have a high save percentage on those. Also, the loss to Phoenix, Huet only gave up one goal in regulation and OT before we lost in the shootout. Does this mean that I believe Huet is the answer. No.
We need to use both goalies and give them both plenty of breaks. If one goalie is really hot, play him for a few games, but let's not pretend that we have a solid "starter/back-up" rotation, because we don't.
There has been speculation that the Blackhawks might pick up a goalie at the trade deadline. This hasn't happened yet, mostly because there's no one who is any more dependable than Huet out there. This is exactly why Stan Bowman came out and said that the Blackhawks aren't going to trade for a goalie at the deadline and they're gonna ride the season out on what they have.
Is this a death sentence? Maybe. But not necessarily.
What do we do, then?
Play better D. The Blackhawks made an excellent move in trading Cam Barker while he's having a decent season and looking like he's worth the money he's getting paid (first time since we drafted him in the first round). We got an experienced, veteran defenseman who has comparable ability that we can let go after the season and dump salary. Plus, we got another prospect.
Hopefully, this move will mean that we will play a little bit better D.
Stop taking so many penalties. Penalties are killing us right now. Our 6th or 7th ranked penalty kill isn't getting it done right now. Know how to make them play better? Stop making them play at all. Get disciplined and stop taking penalties.
Play 60 minutes. 5 out of the last 8 games, we've gone into extra time. In every case, we had the lead at some point in the game and gave it up (a 3-goal lead in the San Jose game). Once you have the lead, it's not time to stop playing offense. Run up the score. And defense, just because you're ahead doesn't mean your job is done. Take away passing lanes and shooting lanes.
I don't have all the answers and I certainly don't know why a team who was so red-hot at the beginning of the season has suddenly started to falter a little bit, but I think that these are some of our main problems.