1. All talk, no action. That, ladies and gentlemen, is your Chicago Blackhawks right now.
It’s not just that the Hawks blew another playoff game at home to the Predators – a second consecutive playoff shutout in the United Center — it’s that the Hawks blew the second game while displaying zero desperation — the desperation they talked about for two days.
Waiting to see that desperation. Waiting to see that intensity. Waiting to see one stinkin’ goal from the home team.
In Game 2 on Saturday, while getting pantsed 5-0, the Hawks were bad and slow, discombobulated and awful, lacking drive and smarts. And uninspired and lousy.
Desperation and intensity became orphans.
Right from the start, too. The Hawks iced the puck six seconds into the game. They gave up a great chance shortly thereafter. They managed a measly four shots in the last 17 minutes of the first period.
They were not ready to compete like a champion.
The Hawks gave up the first goal again, and then the second, the third, fourth and fifth. They gave up so many goals in so many ugly ways that Predators netminder Pekka Rinne registered two assists. That’s more points than every Hawks skater. Combined.
It was that bad. It was so bad. It was bad enough to make you pine for Bulls basketball.
The Hawks gave up goals because the Predators went to the net and got shots through, something the Hawks have completely failed to execute in their two home games to open this first-round series. See Ryan Ellis‘ game-opening goal through a Victor Arvidsson screen for details.
The Hawks gave up goals because they stunk along the boards and everywhere else there was a puck battle. Filip Forsberg split Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya so badly that Quenneville changed the defensive pairings.
They gave up goals because of lousy positioning, bad decisions, and an inability to outwork the Predators. Dennis Rasmussen was tossed aside and Niklas Hjalmarsson stood there watching on Colton Sissons’ goal. Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk were outhustled on Ryan Johansen’s goal.
To think, Predators coach Peter Laviollette said previous he expected Saturday to be his team’s “toughest game of the year.’’
After Game 1, I wrote that the Predators weren’t going to beat the Hawks by playing a trap and giving them the puck and all the shots they wanted.
But we’ll never know. The Predators didn’t need to resort to a trap or turtle around Rinne in Game 2 because the Hawks failed to outwork the Predators like they talked about for two days. The Western Conference winners couldn’t impose their will on their ice on the eighth seed.
Since Thursday, the Hawks had talked like they would display ferocity. But Saturday night, they settled for whiplash administered by the Predators. Thank you, sir, may I have another?
“It’s about us,’’ Toews said. “It always has been about us.’’
“They always lead the charge,’’ Quenneville said.
Good luck finding them.
“I haven’t scored a goal in two games,’’ Kane said. “Not acceptable.’’
Actually, Kane hasn’t scored a goal in four games going back to the Blues series last year. And he has scored just one goal in his last nine playoff games and only two in his last last 16.
Keith, meanwhile, the poster child for the Hawks offense that starts with the defense, finished Game 2 with a minus-8 Corsi while skating five-on-five. Keith was worse than every Hawks defenseman except Hjalmarsson, whose Corsi finished at minus-13. Keith and Hjalmarsson are supposed to make up the Hawks’ top defensive pairing.
So much for the Hawks’ best players being their best players.
Toews said the Hawks can take some things from the Predators’ game. Yeah, like hustle and effort. And the guts and fight to get to the front of the net and the skill to get pucks through.
It’s not that the Hawks can’t do those things. It’s that they inexplicably haven’t. Skating with a sense of entitlement is no way to win a Stanley Cup.
Or even score a goal.
It’s also not that the Hawks can’t come back to win this series. They’ve come back in many series. But it’s that they have shown almost no reason to believe they can.
Time to shut up and play like this matters.
- A coach who never practices his team during the playoffs, Quenneville dragged his players to the ice Friday. This was the equivalent of a postseason bag skate.
During the regular season, a bag skate is a practice without pucks. An angry coach skates his players. And skates them. And skates them until every player is bagged. Hence the name.
Quenneville called the practice to underscore his unhappiness with their lazy efforts to get to the Predators net in their 1-0 loss in the opener.
But there was scant evidence in Game 2 they had learned a thing, and so, you might think Quenneville would be spitting nails at the postgame podium.
But no. He didn’t seem mad. He told his players to “be angry,’’ but he didn’t appear to be so. He seemed pragmatic. Game 2 was as bad as it could get, he said. Game 2 was more than crashing Rinne’s net. Game 2 was more than being one shot away. Game 2 felt as if the coach believed the deserved result after that awful effort got his team’s attention the way perhaps his practice did not.
3. Nick Schmaltz’s playoff struggles in Game 1 that prompted Quenneville to drop him from the first line to the fourth looked familiar. He hasn’t adjusted quickly or easily to a new challenge.
Schmaltz came to the Hawks fresh off an NCAA title at North Dakota. Hawks GM Stan Bowman and his scouts loved the confidence Schmaltz showed in that championship run. But when Schmaltz got his shot with the Hawks, he failed to show the game and confidence required at the NHL level.
So, Schmaltz was sent to Rockford to find his game. Upon his return to the Hawks, Schmaltz started to show he belonged with the adults and helped Toews start lighting up the league. Lather, rinse, succeed.
And so it was in Game 2. Schmaltz started Game 2 on the third line with Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa, but was moved back up to the Toews line when Ryan Hartman proved to be a disaster.
Schmaltz finished Game 2 with an 80 percent rating in high-danger Corsi For while skating five-on-five, best on the team.
4. Hartman’s crosscheck to Craig Smith’s head as he lay vulnerable on the ice near the end of Game 2 warrants a suspension. It was a dirty and stupid play.
And man, could the Hawks ever benefit from losing Hartman. Moved up to the top line to start Game 2, Hartman registered a Corsi For percentage of 5.0, the worst on a bad team. Put another way, when Hartman was on the ice, the Hawks managed one shot attempt while the Predators fired off 19.
- The last time the Hawks were shut out in consecutive playoff games came in 2002. Stunningly superstitious Blues goalie Brent Johnson did it. He actually shut out the Hawks three straight games. Oh, and his coach that year? Quenneville.
5a. The Hawks power play stunk down the stretch of the regular season, going 2-for-26, and after going 0-for-2 in the playoff opener, it matched that in Game 2. Power plays are like bullpens. Teams have to convert, and the Hawks had better find their Aroldis Chapman pretty quick.
5b. For what it’s worth, Nashville won the first two games in Anaheim last year, then lost three straight before winning the series in seven.