So here it is once again. On the brink of elimination for one final time in the West at the hands of Scum. That old familiar sting. We try to kill it all away, but we remember everything.
At the forefront of this series has been the absolute clowning of Joel Quenneville by Mike Babcock. His continued deployment of Henrik Zetterberg against Jonathan Toews has left Quenneville scrambling, hitting the button on the line blender like a lab rat looking for another sugar cube in games 3 and 4. This matchup has also made the normally collected Toews come absolutely unglued, as evidenced by his three straight minors in game 4, leading to a power play game-winner, the first and only power play goal the Hawks have allowed to this point in the post season.
Additionally, Babcock has gummed things up in the neutral zone, by and large taking away the stretch passes the Hawks are so willing to attempt even in spite of it continually being thwarted by Red Wing sticks. Even still, the Hawks are still getting chances, though most of them from the perimeter, where Jimmy Howard has been up to the task. And for fuck’s sake, the Hawks need to stop trying to test his glove hand. It’s clearly working fine.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, they were shut out for the first time all season in Game 4, which also marked the first time all season they’d lost three consecutive games in regulation. This behavior is obviously an aberration over the sample size of the season, but some shit certainly needs to get straighted out. First and foremost, Jonathan Toews needs to be Jonathan Toews. Though in the playoffs there is increasingly mounting evidence that what we’ve seen the past three years is the rule, and the 29 point outburst in 2010 is the exception. If Toews were Russian and not a Good Canadian Boy©, he’d be officially labeled an Enigma© by this point. He’s been completely fustigated by Henrik Zetterberg, though he’s had his chances. With last change at home Quenneville could start his own uphill climb against Babs by getting Toews away from Z, but it’s not something he’s been inclined to do to this point.
At practice this morning, the lines looked like this:
Sharp – Toews – Kane
Bickell – Handzus – Hossa
Saad – Shaw – Stalberg
Kruger – Bolland – Frolik
There are some interesting elements here, should Quennville use them properly, particularly in the bottom six, as the third line boasts some tenacious forechecking, and the fourth could be an effective shut-down unit should Q actually bother with getting a matchup other than Scum’s 4th for them. Additionally, stacking the top line with a familiar look could yield some opportunities, but it makes the corps a bit top heavy and easier to match up against. But the big 6’5″ eyesore is still Michal Handzus in the top 6. It hasn’t worked yet, and it won’t work tonight, but I guess there’s something to be said pathological stubbornness.
On the back end, Nick Leddy has to play more than 8 minutes, plain and simple. He’s the only Hawk blueliner that has the wheels and vision to bust the trap that Scum are invariably going to throw at the Hawks, Brent Seabrook’s fat ass be damned. Corey Crawford will once again backstop the operation, and coming up with a timely save could go quite a long way tonight.
The Hawks have stalled out at Milepost 11 for over a week now, and if they don’t get things jumpstarted tonight, that’s where they’ll stay in profoundly disappointing fashion. Tonight could spell the end of an era on a couple fronts, as not only are Scum leaving the conference, but should they leave the corpse of the Hawks in their wake, expect seismic changes from them on the ice, and possibly behind the bench and/or in the front office after a third straight disappointing exit in the post season. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not tonight. Let’s go Hawks.