Playoffs could slip away if Hawks don't solve issues
All things considered, such as injuries, inconsistent play by key veterans, the inability to protect leads and a difficult schedule, the Blackhawks probably are fortunate they aren't buried in the Western Conference standings.
But the chance of missing the playoffs remains very real if the Hawks don't clean up a lot of their issues.
What happened Monday in Denver was the worst example yet of what has been the Hawks' biggest problem closing out games when it looked as if they were about to get points.
The Hawks led 5-4 with three minutes to play when the roof caved in defensively, turning a promising night into a 7-5 loss captain Jonathan Toews called devastating, embarrassing and humiliating.
"(Coach Joel Quenneville) came in here and said after it's contagious when a couple guys start being lazy and don't do the right things, well, the next guy's going to do the same thing," Toews said. "There's not just one or two or three leaders in this locker room. Everybody has got to lead by example in their own way, and obviously we're not doing that right now."
At some point the Hawks will need Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to be the kind of dominating defense pair they were last year and the year before that.
Keith is minus-11 and Seabrook minus-5 after each recorded a minus-4 in Monday's loss.
General manager Stan Bowman admitted Monday he would like to improve the team on defense and at center, but with the Hawks up against the salary cap that might not happen until closer to the March 2 trade deadline.
It wouldn't be surprising if center Ryan Johnson finds his way to Chicago after last week signing a pro tryout contract with Rockford.
The Hawks don't need offensive help it's defensively that is their problem and the 12-year veteran Johnson has been known throughout his career as a good defensive player and faceoff man.
"He's a guy who has played in the league for a long time; he's a penalty killer, good on faceoffs, he can skate and he's an NHL veteran," Bowman said. "One thing we don't have in the minors, while we have a lot of good young players, but not a lot of NHL experience.
"We figured it was one of those situations where it couldn't hurt to bring him in and see where he's at. We think he's got something left in his career, but we'll evaluate it as we go."
Marian Hossa and Fernando Pisani could be back from their injuries by the weekend, with Patrick Kane possibly returning sooner than later from his sprained left ankle.
"We've been tested a bit now with our depth, but I think we've performed pretty well," Bowman said. "A lot of teams face injuries, but at the same time there's nothing wrong with that because you have to know what guys can do down the stretch."
The Hawks play 13 of their next 18 games at the United Center, a stretch that could go a long way in determining their playoff chances.
"Obviously this is a big month for us at home and even in January the schedule is kind of in our favor before it turns the other way," Bowman said. "I like the way our team is playing; I like the style our team is playing. If we continue to commit ourselves to play that way we've got a lot of talent on this team.
"When we get ourselves clicking on all cylinders we can get on that role. If you look at the standings there's really not much separation at all. We just have to continue to get points scratch, claw and get them any way we can."
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Game notes: The Hawks' chance for payback comes quickly following Monday's crushing 7-5 loss in Denver when they led 5-4 with less than three minutes to play. The Avs came out of Monday's win leading the NHL in goals with 108. Corey Crawford is expected to start in goal for the Hawks.
Season series: Avs lead 2-0.
Next: Detroit Red Wings at the United Center, 7:30 p.m. Friday.