The Chicago Blackhawks have opened up the first month of the season in lukewarm fashion. There is just no other way to say it.
You can try to rationalize the way Chicago has come out of the gate in October by saying that the 'Hawks have been picking up points. You can point out that there is no need to panic this early in the 2013-14 campaign.
You can point to the short offseason, the veterans recovering from last spring's playoffs, and a wave of youth in the lineup. All of the above statements are true.
However, none of this completely whitewashes the fact that through 11 games, Chicago has not played to the level the organization expects. If you don't believe me, listen to coach Joel Quenneville, who had this to say after Saturday night's 5-3 loss to Minnesota, as reported by Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago:
I think we had a very slow start to our season; now we’re going to be playing some hockey.
There is definitely optimism in the latter part of that quote, but there is no getting around the sentiment in the opening phrase. The Blackhawks have not met his expectations.
Not that the players aren't already well aware of this. This was Jonathan Toews in the locker room after the loss:
We know we want to be better than that.
Toews went on to detail his team's struggles in surrendering 11 goals in the last two games:
It’s one thing that people are talking about us not scoring, but sometimes you don’t need to score that many to win if you’re playing good defensively. We had breakdowns; we had turnovers inside our zone; we had miscommunications; some penalties that we shouldn’t have taken.
The Minnesota Wild took just five seconds to pounce on the first power-play opportunity of the evening Saturday, winning a faceoff and taking a 1-0 lead on a Zach Parise goal. Marcus Kruger lost that faceoff and later committed an ill-advised roughing penalty that put his team two men down for the last 1:53 of the second period.
On the other side of the special teams battle, Chicago was 1-for-5 with the man advantage. However, a sweet bit of passing between Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane was tempered by the fact that the 'Hawks trailed by three goals when Kane converted midway through the final period.
Kruger scored a garbage-time goal on an admittedly nice putback of a Brandon Bollig shot on goal to make the final score a little closer. What can't be ignored is this:
- This was the worst performance of the season by the Blackhawks.
- It came after a pretty sloppy affair in Tampa Bay and at home to boot.
- It came against a division opponent that supposedly hadn't played anybody yet.
The 'Hawks have played three Central Division contests and have yet to win one. While nodding to the small sample size, a loss Monday to the Wild in Minnesota equates to a pair of losses to a pair of division rivals.
A record of 6-2-3 isn't a terrible mark. The Blackhawks do have 15 points, which puts Chicago well above a 100-point pace for the season. If you play the pace game, remember that seven other Western Conference teams are also on course for similar point totals this early in the season.
Three-point games can't be swept under the rug like they can coming against Eastern Conference opponents as they have this month. Chicago has four regulation and overtime wins so far, good for 10th in the conference. The 'Hawks can't afford to hand out points like that.
Quenneville pointed out that his team should have sufficient motivation to go into Minnesota Monday and grab two points. Toews also seemed resolved that his team can right the ship:
Our talent and our ability is going to take over when the work ethic is there, and we’ll go from there.
Hope the 'Hawks pack their work ethic for the trip north.