Two steps forward, one step back.
Or maybe it's more like two steps forward, two steps back.
That's pretty much how the 2017-18 season has felt for the Chicago Blackhawks so far. Every time it looks like they're about to jell and go on a huge run, they stub their collective toes and fall back into the pack.
Is this team not good enough to win nine out of 10? Not fast enough? Not focused enough?
Maybe the big-name players have too many miles on their tires and too little gas left in their tanks?
It's beginning to look like we can answer in the affirmative on all of those questions, especially after an ugly 5-2 loss in Vancouver on Thursday.
With the reeling Hawks off to Edmonton for a game today -- minus the injured Corey Crawford -- let's take a look at four excellent points brought up by WGN Radio color analyst and former Hawk Troy Murray after that ugly 4-1 loss in New Jersey on Saturday.
1. Top dogs
Troy's first point was right on the money: the Blackhawks' top line has been outplayed by their opponents far too often.
"That's got to change," Murray said.
Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Alex DeBrincat/Richard Panik aren't generating enough zone time or consistent scoring opportunities.
Toews hasn't looked right much of the season, turning over the puck too often and having it stripped all over the ice. These are things that never would have happened to the captain three-plus years ago when he was dominating on a nightly basis.
And as Murray said -- that's got to change.
2. Hot potato
An inordinate number of passes are being made with no purpose in mind -- and worse, into highly dangerous areas where opponents are taking advantage.
It's a plague that started early on, and despite Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and others all saying the right things, there is no cure in sight.
Two perfect examples came in that loss to the Devils as Panik and Patrick Sharp simply gave up the puck, and New Jersey capitalized with goals seconds later. Sharp's third-period turnover that led to Taylor Hall's breakaway goal and a 4-1 New Jersey lead was particularly painful because it came after the Hawks had dominated the middle period.
"Those are experienced players that shouldn't be making those type of mistakes," Murray said. "And those type of mistakes are hurting the Blackhawks because they're not deep and good enough as they have been in the past to overcome some of those."
As I wrote last week, the Hawks must start standing up for one another. They did a better job of that against New Jersey, with Ryan Hartman, John Hayden, Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels getting physical at different times to prevent the Hawks from getting completely embarrassed.
"I want to see frustrations," Murray said. "I don't want to see this team lose games easily without going down with a fight."
But those frustrations are occurring because the Hawks are getting outplayed and out-hustled early in games far too often.
That's something else that must change.
"The experienced (guys) inside that locker room should know that these points are just way too valuable not to be able to come out here and play 60 minutes," Murray said.
4. Decisions, decisions
As currently constructed, it seems highly unlikely that this squad could win a Stanley Cup.
"I'm not saying that (general manager) Stan Bowman has to make some major decisions, but he's got to look at what he's got right now and see if that is enough," Murray said. "And if it's not and you want to get into the postseason, you're going to have to make some tough decisions here and figure out where this team needs to improve."
The problem is the players you might want to trade aren't worth much because of how they're performing. You could look to trade prospects, but it seems unlikely that anyone in Rockford is going to generate much in return.
There's always the possibility of trading draft picks, but how many times do you want to take away building blocks for the future?
Bowman figures to make a move or two, but the cold, stark reality is there's probably no superstar coming in to save the season.
"I mean you won five games (in a row). Yeah, great," Murray said of the Hawks' streak that ended with back-to-back losses in Dallas and New Jersey. "But you also loss the five previous to that.
"You can go on a roll, you can get some good goaltending and you can roll off that. But you need more top to bottom."