John Jaeckel: Powerlessness

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You can chalk it up to playing outdoors, high sun and shadows, and what appeared to be a choppy ice surface, but the Blackhawks have not been playing their best hockey over the last handful of games, evidenced yet again in yesterday’s 3-2 loss to the Capitals in the Winter Classic.

To get too down on the Hawks would be unfair, both to them and the Capitals, who clearly are, as I mentioned Wednesday, a much improved team.

That said, there are a couple of things going on of late, whether the Hawks play indoors or out. The power play has been faltering, and it couldn’t have been more obvious than it was yesterday, with the Hawks squandering a minute and a half of 5 on 3.

I’ve heard and read a lot of people blaming that on Duncan Keith, who had a couple of obvious miscues. But the blame has to go on the coaching staff to a degree—or perhaps numerous players not listening to the coaches.

At some point, the lack of movement, both of the puck and players, is inexcusable.

It’s not brain surgery. The three to four defenders try to position themselves to take away as many shooting and passing lanes as possible. The way to circumvent that is to move the puck and players quickly. And it’s not like this is anything new—the Hawk power play, when it’s been bad the last couple of years, is almost always mired down by too much playing catch between the points or basically stationary forwards over-handling the puck on the half-board. As we saw yesterday.

A team with as much offensive firepower as the Hawks have should not be a middle of the pack power play team. But they seem to be (at best) year after year.

Corey Crawford, in fairness, has been inconsistent since coming back from injury a few games ago. He’ll have a period or two where he’s very good, but then stretches, typically early in games, where he’s swimming in the crease, fighting the puck and not tracking pucks well. He was saved by iron more than once yesterday.

Sure, as I’ve pointed out before, a shot hitting the post is often simply due to the goalie being well-positioned, but Crawford also looked beaten on a couple of those yesterday.

The good news is, he can be better. And it’s not implausible that he would struggle to regain form after lengthy absence and playing in the high sun yesterday.

The Blackhawks are still a very good team that will win more than their share of games over the rest of the season—but games like yesterday serve as a reminder that there is always room for improvement, regardless of the playing conditions or the officiating (also not the best yesterday).

And then there’s the whole concept of the Winter Classic.

Overnight ratings for the game were very low. Hard to believe when you have arguably the game’s premier draw, tons of media buid-up, playing in the nation’s capital on New Year’s Day.

There is an argument that the concept itself has lost its novelty, and the “Winter Classic” has just become another game—albeit played outdoors with a lot of marketing spin.

Ugh.

Then again, I have a funny feeling, Caps fans are not quite as down on the whole thing this morning.

So, perhaps it’s time to look forward to Sunday, when the Hawks host Dallas. I’ll have a preview.

JJ