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updated: 1/14/2013 9:29 PM

Blackhawks have the same questions to answer

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  • Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, bottom left, speaks to his team during Monday's practice.

      Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, bottom left, speaks to his team during Monday's practice.
    Associated Press

 
 

The NHL's version of "Sprint for the Cup" is almost here, and many teams, including the Blackhawks, have more questions than answers with only a few practices leading up to a ruthless schedule of games.

The abbreviated regular season will be examined and dissected ad nauseam, but it's the postseason where the Hawks will be challenged again to come up with the right formula.

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It goes without saying that their stars must be aligned and healthy, something that didn't happen last spring with half a Jonathan Toews and no Marian Hossa after the career-threatening hit by Raffi Torres.

Corey Crawford against the Coyotes looked a lot like the goalie who was superb against Vancouver the previous season, save a couple of bad overtime goals that simply can't be excused.

At 28 and with two full NHL seasons in goal, the Hawks should find out this season what they have in Crawford. His very best is more than enough, but his shaky worst will not cut it.

They remain small on defense, where a ferocious pounding by Phoenix took a serious toll in their series defeat.

The Hawks still have to find consistent help on the top two lines for their big four of Toews, Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, and if the move of center Dave Bolland to the second line sticks, that leaves a hole on the checking line.

Guys like Viktor Stalberg and Johnny Oduya, who were so very good the final month of the regular season, disappeared in the playoffs, and it can't work if that happens again.

The question of who occupies the front of the net on the power play looms large -- if Kyle Beach can ever get here and stay here, he's an option -- as do questions about the power play in general.

At this point, trying Michal Rozsival on the blue line can't be any worse than what we've seen, and he does have a history of being effective on the PP, albeit some years back with the Rangers.

But it's not all bad for the Hawks, despite a quiet summer -- and the Gary Bettman fall.

It was a 101-point team a year ago and there are several good, young players on the verge of breaking into the lineup.

At the same time, Nick Leddy is only 21 and he has played 128 NHL games. He's going to improve off last year's 37 points and minus-12, and he has a big NHL future.

Dan Carcillo returns, and if he can stay on the ice he brings a desperately needed presence to the lineup.

Sheldon Brookbank is hardly a game-changer, but he's a bit more than just a sixth or seventh defenseman. His teammates love him because he'll fight anyone and he's always willing to hit and block shots, something the Hawks could use more of.

Hossa and Toews say they're completely recovered from concussions, and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have received some much-needed rest.

If Oduya and Stalberg duplicate their late-season performance, the Hawks are a better team.

Meanwhile, Detroit lost three important players in Nicklas Lidstrom, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom. Nashville lost Ryan Suter, and Columbus traded Rick Nash.

And by playing it safe, the Hawks are well positioned for next year's salary-cap drop.

So it's not as though the Hawks have lost ground to the division since last we saw them play in anger last April, as they lost in six games to Phoenix -- three of those defeats in overtime.

Whether they were angry enough in that series is not in doubt.

This is not a team built in that fashion.

This is not a team built to get pucks on net, playing in high-traffic, high-percentage areas.

This is not a team built to block shots, take the body and fight for loose pucks, but that's how teams must play to go deep in the postseason.

The Hawks scored only 4 goals in three games at the UC against the Coyotes, and while Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was brilliant, it was much more than that.

The Hawks failed to adjust to the Phoenix wall until it was too late, and they've been slow to accept that they are not the puck-possession team that won a Cup three years ago.

They don't have that kind of talent running through the roster like they did before the purge, and they have to alter their play to suit a conference that makes you bleed for every puck in the postseason.

No, it is not all bad for the Hawks, but whether they can survive in the brutal Western Conference playoffs is something they have to prove all over again.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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