Rozner: Blackhawks playing good defense not the worst idea

  • Chicago Blackhawks right wing Dylan Sikura (95) and Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov (47) skate for control of the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Dallas, Saturday, March 9, 2019.

    Chicago Blackhawks right wing Dylan Sikura (95) and Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov (47) skate for control of the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Dallas, Saturday, March 9, 2019.

 
 

It only takes a shift to get into bad habits, but it can take a month to get out of them.

Classic coachspeak? Sure. But too often it's true, especially on losing teams.

Which really makes you wonder who that team was in white playing hockey Saturday night in Dallas.

The players were wearing the Blackhawks' crest, but they looked nothing like the Hawks of the last few months.

Funny thing about adult hockey players is they are very much like children. They crave structure and they want to be told what to do. They will rebel from time to time, but deep down they need to know what they're supposed to do and when they're supposed to do it.

Mostly, they want to win, and when they get results doing the right thing, they're likely to repeat it.

What frequently happens on losing teams, however, is you get players freelancing, and when those are your best players, it's difficult for the rest of the group to buy in.

That's a great formula for a losing season.

But an odd thing happened in the Hawks' 2-1 victory Saturday over the Stars. They played strong team defense, an obvious fact not lost on head coach Jeremy Colliton.

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"It's pretty encouraging that we got the kind of effort we did. We competed really hard," Colliton said. "I thought up and down the lineup, we made a lot of team decisions."

Team decisions.

You'll forgive the preaching, but there are dozens of plays every game where you can either cheat the wrong way, or make certain you're on the right side of your check, ensuring numbers in your favor through the neutral zone and moving back into your own end.

It's a choice players make. Sometimes it's a poor decision with no malice aforethought, but too frequently it's a selfish decision based on wanting offensive chances.

There are teams that have no choice but to try to outscore the opposition because they're so bad in goal or on defense, and maybe even their coaches tell them to cheat, but on bad teams it's sometimes because players are more interested in their own stats than the final score.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Going into Sunday, 11 of the top 12 teams in goals against were in a playoff spot. Arizona was the only club not in the tournament, and the Coyotes were a single point out.

Sure, it's an overly-simplistic, old-school stat, but it does tell a story.

It doesn't necessarily define those teams, but it tells you they are strong in their own end or they are smart in the other two zones, or a combination of both, but nevertheless making sure they have numbers if the puck is going the wrong way.

They are, in other words, responsible.

The game has changed and it will continue to change, but as your first hockey coach told you when you were 5 years old, "You can't lose the game if the other team doesn't score."

It's a hair more complicated than that, but as the Hawks attempt to rebuild around their core, they don't have as much talent as they've had over the last decade, and playing smarter is necessary.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Even in their Stanley Cup winning seasons, the Hawks had strong defensive teams. Joel Quenneville always preached defense first, though admittedly, some of those teams were great defensively because they played so much of the game in the other end.

And in two of those championship seasons, their best player in the Final was their goaltender, regardless of whom the voters selected as Conn Smythe.

In 2009-10, the Hawks during the regular season were third in goals and fifth in goals against.

In 2012-13, the Hawks were second in goals and first in goals against.

And in 2014-15, the Hawks were 16th in goals and first in goals against.

There's more in that than just a number. It's the talent and it's the style of play, but what's always been true -- and you've seen it all season -- is that it's hard to win giving up 4 or 5 goals a game.

The Hawks made a 2-1 lead after a period stand up Saturday because they were responsible defensively.

It's the first time they won 2-1 since Dec. 21 at Colorado.

It's only the eighth time this year the Hawks have won a game scoring 3 or fewer goals.

In 2014-15, the Hawks won 20 games scoring 3 or fewer goals, and in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against Tampa, the Hawks scored 2 goals in all 4 victories.

And the only team that has allowed more goals than the Hawks this season is Ottawa, which happens to be the worst team in the NHL.

Of course, you can cherry pick any stat you want, but as long as there has been hockey -- and as long as there will be hockey -- keeping the puck out of your own goal has been a good thing.

Radical idea, right?

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