Rozner: Some habits die hard for Blackhawks
In many ways, the Blackhawks have turned the page on the last decade of hockey.
Organizationally, and six years removed from their last title, they are in rebuild mode and have stopped trying to win it all and reload at the same time.
It just doesn't work.
At the same time, young players are being given a chance to succeed, though they often fail and that's part of the process. What's different is they don't get benched or buried for mistakes, which is also an important piece of the puzzle.
That's more difficult to do when you're trying to get a ring, but in a cap world you must inject young players into the lineup every year -- every year -- or teams find themselves up against the ceiling with no room to maneuver.
It is entirely necessary.
But in some ways the Hawks are stuck in the past, a lack of commitment to playing defense as a five-man unit. It's something they could get away with when they had a top-four defense as good as anyone, and so many responsible players who would cover for others' lack of desire to help in their own end.
They're not deep enough to do that anymore so it takes the full group to keep the puck out of their net. You see it more when the Hawks are chasing the score, but you see it too often in general.
After a loss to Dallas about 10 days ago, Connor Murphy summed it up nicely, with a stunning bit of honesty that you rarely get in the NHL.
"It's been a bit of a theme with our losses that we seem to be a little bit fragile," Murphy said. "Instead of picking each other up after a mistake, we don't seem to be responding very well.
"That's on us as the leadership group to be able to recognize things and get our team going in the right direction."
Head coach Jeremy Colliton doesn't need that reminder.
"There's going to be things that go against you when you're playing a good team," Colliton said after that Dallas loss. "You've got to respond. Just would like to see us handle that adversity better. Stick together."
Stick together. Play for one another. Work hard for the team.
Before the shutout of Detroit on Saturday, there had been almost a goal a game over the last few weeks that could have been prevented if all five on the ice were willing to get back and be a part of the solution.
That's nothing more than a choice to care.
The Hawks gave up a goal a few nights ago when only four got back and a defenseman had to choose between chasing the man with the puck or defending down low. Either way, he was caught in no man's land, covering a 40x60 on his own.
The choice was going to be bad no matter what. Half the ice was open as players looked to pick up checks. It was essentially a 5-on-4, so an opposing player sneaked in behind and the puck wound up in the back of the net.
There are more subtle plays, like stopping and starting in the opposition slot, being careful to see possession before cruising to an open circle or a backdoor spot, seeking personal glory on the hope of a steal.
That's a wish. And it's selfish.
The correct play is to either support the forecheck and assure that the puck isn't going the other way, or get out of Dodge and make sure you have numbers heading south.
These are small moments in every game that might be the difference between winning and losing, but it takes a commitment to a larger cause and it takes the leadership of veterans playing the right way so that the kids understand the team comes first.
When things go bad, it's usually the young defensemen that take the blame, but at least half the time they're covering for someone else's mistake or trying to compete when the numbers are wrong.
This is all part of a process a team goes through when players aren't sure how they're supposed to play in certain situations because not everyone is doing it, even when the coach is harping on the same type of play, over and over again.
Eventually, the players will listen and learn. If they don't, maybe they won't be here when the Hawks are again competing for the big prize.
Players are so often surprised when they're no longer included, but most of the time, they're making that decision for themselves.
It's really up to them.