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posted: 1/26/2014 10:40 PM

Blackhawks' hangover no reason to panic

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  • The Jets' Blake Wheeler shoots and scores past Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya and goalie Corey Crawford during Winnipeg's 3-goal third period Sunday night.

    The Jets' Blake Wheeler shoots and scores past Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya and goalie Corey Crawford during Winnipeg's 3-goal third period Sunday night.
    Associated Press


Having witnessed more than 2,000 games from the ice or the bench, there's little Joel Quenneville hasn't seen.

He knows a Stanley Cup hangover when he sees it and the Blackhawks are suffering right now, but rather than getting that headache to start the season, they're dehydrated in January and crawling into the Olympic break.

Coming off the shortest off-season in NHL history, the Hawks are officially tired, bored and stale, and save the two games against league powers Anaheim and Boston, the Hawks have been quite mediocre since the national teams were announced a couple weeks ago.

It's no coincidence.

The desire to make those squads got the most-talented Hawks through the first few months of the season, but motivation to play well against bad teams today is nearly nonexistent.

Quenneville could ride them and skate them and call them out, but he's been treading rather lightly, questioning effort but doing so with a soft hand.

It is the smart move. The games that matter will come in April, and he's not going to risk losing a team in January.

In the meantime, he pushes a button here, shows patience there.

He benched the struggling Bryan Bickell on Sunday at the UC against Winnipeg, playing defenseman Michael Kostka up front instead, and perhaps that message played a role in the Hawks' effort Sunday night, which was actually quite good despite a 3-1 loss to the Jets.

They played considerably better than in Detroit or Minnesota and dominated the game for 48 minutes. But unable to extend a 1-0 lead against Glenview native Al Montoya, it was only a matter of time before the Jets cashed in.

"It was a much better start, and I thought we were all over them for 50 minutes," said a frustrated Jonathan Toews. "We couldn't distance ourselves, and then when they scored we got away from what we were doing."

Winnipeg tied it at 1-1 about eight minutes into the third -- with the shots 31-10 Hawks at the time -- and four minutes later ex-Hawk Andrew Ladd took a perfect feed from Marian Hossa in the slot and beat Corey Crawford for the game-winner.

"Maybe he thought," Ladd said with a smile, "that we were still playing together."

No one was smiling in the Hawks' dressing room.

"For a while it looked like it was gonna be an easy 2 points," Toews said. "We really need to be better and keep reminding ourselves of that. It felt like after Anaheim and Boston that we were back on track, but then we just fall into bad habits again."

It was an unhappy Hawks team and that's good, but the truth is they were the much better squad and the 28-year-old Montoya stole the game for Winnipeg against his hometown team, playing like a man who was picked sixth overall in the 2004 draft.

"This is very special," Montoya said. "I've been waiting for this one since I was a kid. I can't even describe it (with) all my friends and all my family in the stands. I've had some close ones, some good games in here, but this one takes it."

Quenneville is still trying to move alone into third place all time in coaching victories, breaking a tie with Dick Irvin (692) and trailing only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Al Arbour (782). Bowman, Arbour and Irvin are all Hall of Famers, and the only other man to play 800-plus games and coach 1,200-plus games was Hall of Famer Jacques Lemaire.

Quenneville has earned the right to figure this out, and he seems willing to wait until after the Olympics to go to the whip. At this point, he should have Hawks fans' trust, as well.

"We played the right way for 40 minutes," said a calm Quenneville. "We gave up nothing for two periods. One bounce in the third and we got away from our game."

This marks the second time this year the Hawks have lost three straight. Last time they responded by winning five of six, but this time they head West for six straight before the Olympic break.

"We threw away another 2 points," Toews said, gritting his teeth and searching for the least inflammatory words he could find. "We've just got to be better in all areas."

By the time the Hawks play again at the UC on March 4, it's a good bet they will be.

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

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