Blackhawks may be dull, but they're not bad
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The panic in the streets has subsided for the moment.
The Blackhawks were a bit better in a win over Toronto on Saturday night at the UC than they had been through seven games this season, and considerably better than in a shootout loss to St. Louis on Thursday.
They played the final 30 minutes with a decent amount of energy, had some scoring chances and played strong defense, and when asked if this was the closest the Hawks had come to a 60-minute effort so far, Joel Quenneville said it was.
"We've had some good periods here and there, but this was as good as we've played all year," Quenneville said. "From start to finish, it was a good effort."
Very quiet were the big names, but youngsters Brandon Pirri (2 points), Brandon Saad (assist) and Nick Leddy (2 points) contributed nicely in the 3-1 victory, and Bryan Bickell finally got on the board with his first goal.
It was not a work of art, but cleaner than Thursday when Quenneville showed a hint of frustration, calling his team's performance "awful," and adding, "I didn't like our game at all after the first 12 minutes."
Before Saturday's game, Quenneville was quite calm and explained that he wasn't displeased with his team's first three weeks overall.
"I thought we had a good start, the first six games of the season," Quenneville said. "We've played pretty well, discounting a couple third periods. We've been pretty consistent, pretty effective and we've played the right way."
The Hawks are 5-1-2, which is remarkable when you consider what they've endured since the beginning of last season.
•They played the compacted schedule and skated with playoff intensity for weeks during the record-setting streak.
•They survived two months of brutal Stanley Cup playoffs, won the Cup and ended the season three weeks later than usual.
•They had the shortest summer in NHL history while partying with Lord Stanley's bowl, and started this season a week early as the NHL makes room for the Olympic break in February.
St. Louis, which lost to Los Angeles in the first round, was done six-plus weeks sooner than the Hawks. Colorado, which finished last in the West, was done eight-plus weeks before the Hawks.
Think about that. Two months.
So if the Hawks look something less than energetic compared to some other clubs in the conference, they have a pretty solid reason, but Quenneville said in general he is happy with the Hawks' effort thus far.
"Our preparation was in the right place over the summer," Quenneville said. "We had a really good camp and I commend the guys. Whether we learned from last time (2010) or maybe just having so many guys return this time, our focus to start the season was in place."
Emotionally, however, the Hawks still look flat. They are playing regular-season games in October that can't possibly feel anything like the games they played in June.
To expect that kind of intensity this soon would be unrealistic. Nevertheless, Quenneville would not give his team an out when it was suggested that the Hawks are emotionally exhausted.
"I'm not buying that," Quenneville chuckled. "It's not happening. We're ready to play. We're young and guys are fresh. They want to play. That's where we're at."
Quenneville has to take that tack. He can't say he understands it, even though he probably understands it.
He knows that staying sharp through a playoff run takes a massive toll on the brain as much as the body, and it's a rough return to action after a standard summer, let alone one that's a month shorter than normal.
It's why they've played some ugly third periods, given up some leads and made mental mistakes leading to scoring opportunities.
It takes mental effort to play smart defensively. Offense is fun and mostly involuntary. Defense takes thought and passion.
The Hawks at times are playing dull hockey, but there should be no panic.
Even the locker room was dull after Saturday night's win, with only four players — none of the stars — waiting for the media, and it packed all the excitement of a preseason game.
So Quenneville will poke them, as he did after the St. Louis game, and he will prod them, as he did Friday when he shook up the lines for Saturday's game, all while wisely giving his team some room to find it again, knowing the Hawks will locate the energy when all their best players take part in the Olympics.
Until then, don't watch the Hawks and expect to see the same Hawks you saw during last season's Sprint Cup or Stanley Cup.
Just relax and remember this is a very talented group — and they are the defending champs.
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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