Punchless Hawks need to attack middle more often

  • Rangers goalie Cam Talbot makes a save against Jonathan Toews during overtime Sunday at the United Center. The Hawks, who were shut out in a 1-0 loss, have scored just 1 goal in the last two games.

    Rangers goalie Cam Talbot makes a save against Jonathan Toews during overtime Sunday at the United Center. The Hawks, who were shut out in a 1-0 loss, have scored just 1 goal in the last two games. Associated Press

By Brian Hedger
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 3/9/2015 8:43 PM

It's one of the first go-to talking points opponents use to describe playing the Blackhawks.

"We have to take care of the puck," they'll say, paying homage to the two Stanley Cup titles the Hawks won in the previous five seasons. "If we don't, that team has so many stars they'll make us pay for it."


It's become a mantra, but also a misnomer.

The Hawks do have big names, even without injured Patrick Kane, but they aren't making teams pay for mistakes enough. They've been outshot in four straight games, including both this past weekend at the United Center, and have dropped to 16th in the NHL in goals-per game (2.74).

The power play is powerless and the franchise's adopted "One Goal" motto is starting to resemble their nightly scoring average. The Hawks have averaged 1.8 goals a game in their previous 10, which includes five games before Kane was injured.

"Without (Kane), we said to be effective we've got to make sure we check first," coach Joel Quenneville said after losing 1-0 Sunday to the Rangers. "That's how you win in our league anyways. I still think there are some opportunities (to score) there. Sometimes we look for better plays, but sometimes the play at the net, we don't shoot it because there's nobody at the net. I think that's where it's got to be more predictable, where somebody's there and it's going there."

Speaking of mantras, "go to the net," and "get pucks and bodies to the net," are still the most popular in the Blackhawks' locker room. Look no further than postgame interviews Sunday.

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"It's the same old answer I can give you," said Patrick Sharp, whose own goal drought stretches back to Jan. 28 (18 games). "It's getting to the net, it's knowing where the puck's going, funneling pucks toward the net, pucks and bodies, and try and disrupt (the goalie)."

It's also shot location. One of the Hawks' season-long trends is being too easily forced to the outside, where the wall becomes an extra defender and goalies cut off nearly every angle.

Quenneville preaches about getting to the middle of the ice and his tune hasn't changed.

"You've got to get there," Quenneville said. "You've got to find a way to get through it and be willing to go there. Certain guys are effective because they do that and things happen when they do. If you get on the outside, you make the defensemen's job so much easier, and even more so the goaltender."

That also holds true for power plays. Having an extra attacker has become a headache for the Hawks, who struggle to set up without Kane carrying the puck into the zone. They haven't scored a power-play goal in 15 straight chances and put a total of 4 shots on net in the six power plays they got the past two games.


"(Kane's) obviously a huge loss there," Kris Versteeg said. "There are still a lot of guys who have done it before. It's just about getting the job done. We have to find a way to get the pucks to the net. That's a very big part right there."

Giving back:

The Blackhawks honored the recipients of three scholarships during the 28th annual Keith Magnuson Scholarship Award Luncheon at the Hyatt Lodge in Oak Brook on Monday. This year's winners from a group of about 65 applicants were Joseph Orecchio from St. Viator, William Spell from Brother Rice and Margot Werner from Latin School. These were four-year scholarships value at $7,500 per year. The Hawks have now given away 91 scholarships since the program began in 1988.

"We had a great group of kids this year, like we do every year," said Cliff Koroll, the president of the Blackhawks Alumni Association who also played for the Hawks from 1969-80. "A lot of girls are applying; girls are playing more and more hockey now. And they seem to do a much better job than filling out their application than the boys do. ... Unfortunately we couldn't give more scholarships because there were probably five or six others that were very (good). But we can only take three people."

Thinking of Stan:

During the Blackhawks' luncheon in Oak Brook on Monday, Cliff Koroll, president of the Blackhawks Alumni Association, took a moment to speak about former teammate and friend Stan Mikita, who was recently diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.

"It's been tough," Koroll said. "I saw Stan about a month ago down in Florida before he came back home. It was very sad to see the condition he was in. He was OK -- he knew who I was. We had a good conversation. ...

"It's a pretty sad situation. We're all kind of taken aback by it."

Koroll played for the Hawks from 1969-80, scoring 208 goals over his career.

"He was crucial to my career," Koroll said. "(As a) right-winger for 10 years and a roommate on the road for 10 years, so he taught me an awful lot about hockey both on the ice and off the ice. He was a great mentor. Hopefully he gets through this thing reasonably well."

• Daily Herald sports writer John Dietz contributed to this report.

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