Rozner: Streaking Blackhawks finding defensive posture
It's a bit early to be scoreboard watching, but it's already getting late to be losing track of the standings.
Or losing, for that matter.
The reality, regardless, is that the Blackhawks gave up control of their own destiny months ago and now can only control their effort and the game in front of them as they continue to dig out of a massive hole.
They did that Sunday at home against Detroit with a 5-2 victory, their seventh straight, but St. Louis won again in overtime, their sixth consecutive win.
With Minnesota losing, the Hawks are 4 points out of a playoff spot, albeit with Vancouver and Colorado still standing in the way.
"It doesn't matter. We just play the next game," said head coach Jeremy Colliton. "We have an opportunity here. We have some momentum. Guys are playing well. They're getting rewarded for their hard work. We gotta ride that as long as we can.
"We gotta make sure we don't think we can show up and it'll just happen. We gotta work. We gotta do the right things. If you do it for close to 60 minutes, we'll get the points we want and I'm pretty sure the standings will sort out."
For it to happen, the Hawks must still get better defensively, though it's been a vast improvement of late. After giving up a league worst 3.8 goals per game, over the last six the Hawks are allowing 2.33.
And it could be better than that if not for some sloppy play.
"It's always gonna be a work in progress," Colliton said of the Hawks' defensive assignments. "Even when we have it down, we're gonna keep evolving. The league changes and you have to adjust on the fly.
"But we're better than we were before and we're gonna keep getting better."
The Hawks gave up 45 shots Sunday afternoon, but many were from the perimeter and though Cam Ward was very good, quality chances are considerably down from what the Hawks were giving up a month ago.
"Shots are shots. You gotta dig a little deeper," Colliton said. "Sometimes you give up a lot of shots and there's a ton of chances. We've had those nights. Tonight was probably pretty even.
"Still, I would have liked us to be tighter."
The key is that the offense is starting to get on the same page as the defense, which can look really bad when the forwards are not where they're supposed to be, and that was the case for a long period after Colliton took over.
"That's probably the biggest thing that's changed in the 32 games since I got here," said forward Dylan Strome, who had his second straight 3-point game Sunday as he continues to click with Alex DeBrincat (3 points) and Dominik Kahun (3 points). "When I first got here, we were kind of confused on what to do defensively.
"We were kind of trying to figure out what Jeremy wanted. Obviously, he had a plan in mind of what we needed to do. Now we're executing that and it's working. Everyone's bought into his system and realizes it works."
Yes, the Hawks have scored 37 goals during this streak (5.3 per game), but it's the defense that has made the difference.
"In the defensive zone, we're not thinking as much," Strome said. "When they get pressure on us, we just have to stay calm. One battle can get us out of the zone.
"Everyone has their own job to do and if someone gets beat, then there's support there to help. Good defense leads to offense and that's very true for us right now."
The Hawks will be in Boston Tuesday night and then play five of six at home with an opportunity to continue this run, something that's absolutely necessary if they want to hang around the playoff race.
But it's obvious that the Hawks are not there yet, still struggling at times in their own end. They also still have entire periods where they looks sluggish, witness Sunday's second period.
And while it's not nearly as bad as it was before with those terrible first periods, Colliton knows there's another level to the Hawks' game and that's why some of his postgame comments Sunday were interpreted as frustration.
"No," Colliton said. "I'm just not satisfied.
"We're not where we want to be. We have to keep getting better. We can. There's more. We're happy we won. We got the 2 points we dearly needed.
"And we'll go back to work tomorrow and get prepared for Tuesday and that's the mentality we should have as a group."
There's room to grow and the Hawks must. Winning streaks don't last forever and how they bounce back from their next defeat may signal just how real this postseason push will be.
In the meantime, seven straight is a good place to start.