With 3rd loss to Ducks, are Hawks showing cracks in their armor? - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

With 3rd loss to Ducks, are Hawks showing cracks in their armor?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Ray Emery suffered his first loss of the season as the Chicago Blackhawks fell to Anaheim 2-1. To add insult to injury the Hawks have now lost three in a row to the Ducks. In the last two contests goals came late in the final period to cost the Hawks. In the first meeting Anaheim tied the score in the final minutes of the third frame and won in a shootout.

It is important to remember the Hawks were without Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp in the last two losses to Anaheim. That said injuries hinder every team at some point in the season.

More significant than the Blackhawks being swept in a season series is why it has happened.

Friday night's contest felt like a playoff game, a packed house and it was an intense game. The Ducks have played the Hawks with a playoff like effort every time they have met. Anaheim is a big club that can execute a quick transition game and they play solid team defense.

The Ducks, like a handful of others in the Western Conference can prevent the Hawks from playing their preferred style. It is apparent the Ducks take them out of their comfort zone as the Hawks can't control the pace.

Friday night the Blackhawks held their own in the opening period but the players that kept the pressure on the Ducks were the bottom six forwards. It's good there are two lines that can play a dump/chip and chase game but versus the Ducks they need four lines. With Hossa and Sharp in the lineup the top two lines can play with a more determined effort, but the Hawks will still be challenged.

Teams like the Ducks, Kings, Canucks, Blues and Predators can play a tighter, close checking game that will take away the Blackhawks speed. For the most part, those clubs can play the same way during the regular season and in the playoffs. There is no denying at this point the Hawks aren't as comfortable playing that type of game.

The challenge of playing a more station-to-station style is what the Blackhawks will face in the playoffs. On the surface it appears there are only a few teams that can force the Hawks away from their normal game. In reality once the playoffs start it could happen in any series, last year versus the Coyotes being a prime example.

The theory of taking the body at every opportunity and playing a tight checking game is that it will wear on an opponent. This is about the time of the season I pull out one of my favorite Vince Lombardi quotes: "Fatigue makes cowards of us all."

Is it coincidence the Ducks have had success in the last few minutes of the third period every time that have faced the Hawks this season? Maybe but maybe not, because pressure and mental fatigue also comes into play as mistakes lead to goals.

On the Ducks first goal, Johnny Oduya made an ill-advised pass attempt and his partner Niklas Hjalmarsson then back peddled. The turnover led to Corey Perry getting an opportunity as he was given too much space. Perry doesn't miss often from close range and he put one past Emery.

In the last few seconds of the game the Ducks scored a bit of a fluke goal, but it wasn't all luck. Sheldon Souray has one of the better point shots in the game and there wasn't a Hawk in the same area code when he stepped up and fired a shot. The puck deflected off of Hjalmarsson's stick and into the net. On the play Patrick Kane, who played another fine game, got caught in no-man's land at the worst possible time.

Most goals happen because of mistakes but the opponents have something to do with forcing the errors. Anaheim can skate well enough to stick with the Hawks, same way with LA or Vancouver. The Ducks have done the best job this season of imposing their style on the Hawks. Maybe by the time the playoffs come the Hawks will learn how to face this type of challenge.

Possibly there are some personnel issues which should cause some concern.

There is a reversion to the mean in hockey like in other things. Besides skill what separates the finest players from others is a matter of consistency. Top tier players bring a consistent effort game in game out, others bring forth a quality performance on a less regular basis.

Hjalmarsson and Oduya were the best defensive duo over the first 18 games or so of this season. The third line of Viktor Stalberg, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell were big contributors early on too, but in the last 10-12 games not so much. The Blackhawks needed a bigger effort from the third line when Sharp and Hossa went out. Instead their point production has slid.

Corey Crawford hasn't been as sharp and Dave Bolland can't get it into gear. The play of the fourth line has been sporadic as well. Joel Quenneville appears to be still searching for the right combination of players for the fourth line and there are only 15 games left in the regular season.

The power play hasn't been as good, but losing Hossa and Sharp matter there. More disturbing is the penalty killing has slipped as well, which could have something to do with fatigue. Any team will have a difficult time advancing in the playoffs with both the power play and penalty killing units not performing well.

Lastly, the Hawks are counting on some young players to be big contributors and they don't have much playoff experience.

On the positive side of the ledger, Duncan Keith has been playing well and Friday night Nick Leddy was the best player on the ice. Kane and Jonathan Toews continue to lead but they can't do it alone.

The Blackhawks were bound to slow down, but it will be interesting if GM Stan Bowman feels any urgency.

Bowman may believe there aren't any cracks in the armor. Or he could look to add to his roster and put the Hawks in a better position to compete in the playoffs.

The clock is ticking and the April 3 trade deadline is right around the corner.

Will this current group of Blackhawks be able to better adapt to teams like the Ducks?

Or will Bowman pull the trigger and acquire a player or two which can better insure a long playoff run?

Blackhawk fans should hope for the latter.

Al's Shots

As long time readers know I don't impress easily.

But from the beginning, Leddy has impressed me and now he seems to be drawing the attention of many. Considering Leddy was thrown into the NHL about a step removed from high school he caught my eye. He still has lessons to learn but he is an elite skater with great vision.

At some point Coach Q. will be forced to figure out ways to get Leddy on the ice more often. One way, which should have started by now, is to have Leddy play the most power play minutes of any defensemen. Leddy is a very good passer who gets his shots on net without taking a huge backswing.

As the play of Hammer and Oduya slips don't be surprised if the Hawks go more to a five man rotation.

Leddy at only 22 can steer the power play and help lead the Hawks transition game. He needs a little more confidence and that will come with more minutes. He isn't ready to play first pairing minutes but Leddy can be a difference maker.

As is usually the case this time of year, Jerome Iginla was dealt for much less of a return than was rumored.

According to reviews the two Penguin prospects exchanged were above average but not blue chip quality. Calgary GM Jay Feaster did manage to also get a first round draft pick in return for his aging star.

I didn't think the Hawks had much of a chance to snag Iginla, and if trading a number one draft pick was a perquisite they had no chance.

When the Hawks traded for Oduya last year they gave up this year's second and third round draft picks. That is a steeper price than it appears because it would prevent Bowman from writing an offer sheet as he doesn't have the necessary compensation. Fortunately Oduya has been a good addition.

In the case of Iginla, there was no way the Hawks would go into this summer's draft without a selection in the first three rounds. The Penguins first selection is in the third round but they manage their franchise with more urgency than most.

As the Iginla saga turned out, he had a lot of control as to where he went. Once it was apparent the only place Iginla would agree to be traded was Pittsburgh, Feaster had little leverage.

I will be back on Monday to review Sunday's Red Wing game. You can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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