Chicago Blackhawks: Does the Defensive System Need To Be Permanently Changed?

Cody PughContributor IIIMarch 23, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 14: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks makes a save as teammates Ryan Johnson #17 and Troy Brouwer #22 defend against a shot by Ryane Clowe #29 of the San Jose Sharks at the United Center on March 14, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Sharks 6-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It was a game that most people were calling "the biggest of the season." Some were even claiming that all the Blackhawks' playoff aspirations were riding on this one single showdown in the desert.

And the 'Hawks proved they wouldn't simply accept defeat.

Three nights ago, the Blackhawks went into Arena a desperate, uncertain team trying to rebound from an embarrassing 5-0 loss and played like they knew they were in a truly "must-win" game.

The final score was 2-1. It wasn't a game won by outscoring the opponent. It was a game won by not letting the opponent score.

In my opinion, it was their best defensive game of the season. The Coyotes only managed 21 shots on goal and had only a small number of quality scoring chances.

The one goal they did get was a puck that was just thrown at the net and took an unfortunate bounce off Nick Leddy. But that's all they would get.

This was an excellent example of just how good the 'Hawks can be defensively. Shooting lanes were eliminated. Sticks were on the ice deflecting away passes that would probably have ended in a good scoring chance. Every forward applied good pressure on the forecheck.

And if there was an award for best backchecker in a game, Marian Hossa would get it. He was a defensive titan that night.

There's a saying in sports: "offense wins games, defense wins championships." Well I would like to change that to "defense wins games, and better defense wins championships."

Last game was a true testimony to the notion that you don't necessarily have to be a high-scoring team to win games. When you're a team as offensively talented as the Blackhawks, the goals will come eventually.

The key to winning then, for the 'Hawks, lies in how well they can prevent the other team from lighting the red lamp.

I think defense was one thing that got overlooked during the 'Hawks' eight-game streak simply because they were winning. It's tough to complain or find flaws when you're winning.

However disappointments against Florida, Tampa Bay and most recently Dallas, exposed that the 'Hawks were still very weak at the other end of the ice.

But changed in Phoenix. They seemed like a totally different team. I hate saying this, but they reminded me of the Nashville Predators, who play with a very tight defensive system.

The offense was there too. The 'Hawks fired 28 shots and had at least 10 quality scoring chances. Ilya Bryzgalov simply kept the dogs in the game by making some fantastic saves.

But this game makes me think: should the 'Hawks augment their system a little bit? Instead of trying to play a wide-open contest with lots of scoring, should the 'Hawks focus on good defense and simply wait patiently for their chances, like they did against Phoenix?

With the announcement that Patrick Sharp will likely miss most of the remaining 10 games, the 'Hawks lose their top goal scorer in the most important stretch of the season. So how can they get through this?

I say play tight defensively like they did against Phoenix. I don't know if it was just desperation, if Q was on them about defense that night, or if the coaching staff is thinking about making serious changes to the team's defensive system to play low-scoring, defensively sound games.

Whatever it is, the 'Hawks should try and replicate it as many times as possible.

Yes, it was a close game. But let's be frank: Bryzgalov made some huge saves and Crawford wasn't very busy. That's the way to play a hockey game.

I know it's not exciting for the fans; I know its not the most thrilling hockey. But I can almost guarantee fans will like the two points that result from it.

I say tell the defensemen not to pinch as much; tell the forwards to backcheck harder; tell everyone to disrupt passing and shooting lanes, do everything you possibly can to keep that puck from going in the net.

If they can do this well, the Blackhawks have a good enough transition game and offensive firepower to produce goals at the other end.

We'll see tonight against Florida if their defensive prowess last game was a fluke or if it is a serious new change in their system.