Less than 48 hours after the Blackhawks fell to Phoenix in Game 6 last April, Joel Quenneville addressed the media in his final news conference of a disappointing season.
There wasn’t anything shocking in the coach’s remarks that day, but he did leave the team with one thing to consider, offering a glimpse into his locker room.
“I think team chemistry is something going forward that should be a priority, where everyone is pulling and pushing together and is going to make us stronger,” Quenneville said on April 25, 2012. “I think that’s got to be an ingredient, besides just skill, hard work and talent.”
A couple of hours before Sunday’s game, I asked Quenneville if the Hawks’ big start was proof enough that those who needed to hear it last spring have taken his words to heart.
“The best way to measure that is with results, and we’ve won a lot of games because guys are playing for the team,” Quenneville told me Sunday. “It reinforces the idea that guys need to play that way, and they want to play that way.”
So what was Quenneville asking for specifically?
“Team contributions — and we’re getting that,” Quenneville said. “We want to see meaningful shifts for the team and for your linemates, supporting each other on the ice, and being where you’re supposed to be for each other.”
It sounds as simple as putting on your skates, but when one player starts freelancing, going 1-on-5 or getting away from team doctrines, it creates doubt within the group.
If one player makes himself unavailable for the breakout pass or is absent when his defensive partner is expecting him to be in a specific spot lending support, it causes other players to wonder why they should take a hit to possess the puck, or sacrifice their own stats to backcheck when others are looking for offensive opportunities.
In the simplest of terms, Quenneville wanted the Hawks to be unselfish and put the team game first.
“It’s been good,” Quenneville said. “We got a chance to get on the road together for that 10 of 12 (games) early, and that gave the guys a chance to become a tight-knit group.
“I think the chemistry’s been great. When we play for each other, you see the results, and it reinforces what we need to do for the team to be successful.”
The Hawks have done that with precious few exceptions through 26 games, one of them being the first period of Sunday night’s game at home against Edmonton.
“We talked about that at the first intermission,” Andrew Shaw said Sunday night. “We had to pick each other up.”
Shaw wouldn’t use it as an excuse, but Quenneville pointed out the Hawks were physically and mentally exhausted. It’s a reasonable explanation for why the Hawks — for stretches Friday and Sunday — looked nothing like the team from the first 24 games.
“We talked about getting back to our game. We needed to get back to helping our defense, getting back and being active,” Shaw said. “We needed to get pucks behind the defense, takes shots from all angles, get pucks on net, drive hard to the net.
“We wanted to get back to playing for each other and picking each other up, and we did that the last two periods (Sunday).”
It was also clear that the players and coaches were fed up with talking about the streak or even thinking about it. Not that it wasn’t impressive, not that they didn’t want it to continue, but they spent a lot of emotion and energy trying to keep it alive.
And now they’re done with it.
“We’re proud of what we accomplished, proud of what we did,” Quenneville said. “But now we can focus on what we do best and get back to doing that. What (the streak) showed us is we know how to win consistently.
“We just need to get back to that one-game mentality, and taking just that day’s game and not think about anything bigger than that.”
Confidence is earned in hockey, and the Hawks have certainly earned the right to think they can win any game they play, regardless of score or circumstances.
“We have to be careful not to get too down on ourselves,” said Patrick Kane. “What we did was special, but it’s over and time to get back to business. We know what we can do and now we can go one game at a time and get ready for the playoffs.”
With the season already past the halfway mark, it’s never too soon to think about that.
ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.