Chicago, IL — Anybody that has followed the NHL in the 2013-2014 season knows there is a glaring difference between the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. The Blackhawks are in the highly competitive Western Conference and if they are to get to the final party call the Stanley Cup Playoffs there are certain teams they no doubt will face.
Those teams – LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues & Minnesota Wild all have several things in common and it is no coincidence that they are atop the west and the league for that matter. The only team that does not fit the mold is the Blackhawks.
All of these teams including the Hawks are similar in that they all have come from behind capabilities and you can never count them out. What this shows is that they never give up and playing a 60 minute game is essential. When playing these teams one should never feel too great with a one, two or even three goal lead going into the third period.
Where the Hawks differ from the other teams is defensively. These teams are very stingy with their goals against and are all excellent with their positioning and gap controls which can stymie & frustrate an offensive team. Currently the LA Kings are #1 in GAG 1.91 now that is stingy and they have been doing it without Jonathan Quick in goal yikes.
Minnesota is 5th with a 2.20 in between is Colorado Avs, St. Louis, San Jose and in 11th place in the league is Anaheim with a 2.44 GAG. Each of these teams only gives up 2-2.5 goals per game. The Hawks on the other hand are way down at 19th with 2.77. This is something they will need to shore up when facing these teams.
The Hawks like to play a fast paced run and gun style yet last year when they won the Cup that isn’t really the game they played. They played more like the defensive style we are seeing from the Western Conference leading teams and that is the style that will probably be needed to once again make it through the western teams to the Finals but first you have to get to the show.
The Blackhawks I’m sure prefer the run and gun style. Let’s face it its more fun to watch so it probably is more fun to play as well. The Hawks don’t want to get into bad habits however and as boring as it is to lock it down team wise defensively and wait for the other team to make a mistake I’m afraid that is what it will take to beat these teams in the west.
The Hawks have to cut down on giveaways in their own zone and not beat themselves if they do this I guarantee they will be in games til the end. The Hawks need to focus on getting their GAG down. Let me put this in perspective the Philadelphia Flyers are better currently than the Hawks in GAG, ok enough said. The Hawks cannot afford to play like they are the Eastern Conference it will not work in the west.
The other thing these teams all have in common they are very good at the faceoff circle and with the Hawks wanting to possess the puck they need to keep working on their faceoff skills and study these team’s centers. Mikko Koivu, Anze Kopitar and Ryan Getzlaf are all excellent at the dot. Now Jonathan Toews is no slouch but on the road the Hawks don’t have final say as to who will face these experts so all of the Hawks need to be prepared.
The other area which has gotten enough pub is special teams in particular the penalty kill. Last year it was the power play this year it’s the PK why the Hawks can’t get both going at the same time I’m not sure. Almost everybody is better than the Hawks in penalty kill if the Hawks can’t fix this then stay out of the penalty box. Discipline will then have to be the order.
The penalty kill is largely about keeping things to the perimeter and giving your goalie a good line of sight and blocking. This year it seems there are not as many block shots if that is going to be the case the D-men must clear out the front of the net period.
There’s no doubt Michael Frolik is missed but what is missed is someone who will take ownership and pride in stopping shots from getting to the net. I’m not sure who can fill this but I know it must be a young player with solid positioning skills and a hunger to step up and make a name for himself specializing.
Right now the Hawks are leading in goals scored per game but the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are right behind them. Counting on outscoring teams is probably not the way you want to go. I don’t want the Hawks to get in bad habits and depend solely on scoring goals to bail them out.
The Western Conference will be won by the team that is willing to grind it out and play down low and occasionally score greasy goals but always be focused on not letting the opposition behind you and having active sticks and solid gap controls and not beating themselves. Is it sexy? No but it is effective and the formula for winning in the west.
The Hawks have young goaltenders that they need to help out while Corey Crawford is on the mend. Solid positioning will assist these young goalies. Besides the Kings, Blues & Ducks are not going to just let the Hawks fly through the neutral zone so best get used to grinding out one goal games against these teams.
Also need to tighten up against divisional foes as well. The Hawks have a terrible divisional record which could come into play at the end of the year if things get even tighter this record could make the difference especially against the Blues who right now have a win and shoot out win over the Hawks.
The Hawks will get a good test tonight against the very hot LA Kings. This will be a good test for both teams and a good indicator of who really is the heavy weight in the Western Conference. If the Hawks want to win the game they must pay attention to defensive details.
The Hawks schedule does not get any easier to close out the year they play Vancouver, Colorado, LA & St. Louis. Sounds like a perfect stretch to get that Western Conference defensive team game going. The Hawks can still fly just not against these teams.
It’s time for the Sheriff to lay down the law west of the Mississippi and re-establish order because if they don’t the Hawks maybe losing their star to a new Sheriff in the West.