Hawks drop third straight to Jets 3-1, Bickell a healthy scratch - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Hawks drop third straight to Jets 3-1, Bickell a healthy scratch

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

On Sunday night Chicago lost their third straight to the rejuvenated Winnipeg Jets, 3-1. Under new head coach Paul Maurice the Jets have won six of seven. Saying there is a fine line between winning and losing is such a trite expression but it is often true. The effort from the Blackhawks swung from being very determined to a little too casual at times which led to some costly turnovers.

This could be categorized as a goalie win as Al Montoya played a very good game. He didn't allow many rebounds but too often shots weren't difficult to suck up. As Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville mentioned in post game comments, shot placement wasn't great.

Quenneville meant, shots need to create rebounds and that can't be accomplished when pucks are shot into the goaltender's midsection or easily caught. That shouldn't be interpreted as a slight to Montoya as he was a difference maker. Basically it was just another part of the Blackhawks game which was a little off.

Bryan Bickell was a healthy scratch and Michael Kostka played wing in his place. As was tweeted and written here recently, that was the next stop for Bickell. Maybe not dressing will fire Bickell up, or maybe he sinks further into a funk, time will tell.

Sorry to beat a dead horse but teams that go through slumps don't often lose high scoring games. In their last three losses the Hawks have averaged scoring only two goals per game and that won't cut it. This team has won a Stanley Cup by being able to win low scoring games but they have high priced, skill players who need to produce for success.

This was a bad loss for a few reasons.

The Jets have been on a hectic schedule and came off an OT win in Winnipeg on Saturday night. The Blackhawks had been off for a couple of days and had only a light practice. So the scheduling edge belonged to the Hawks.

The Jets didn't not have a smooth travel to Chicago and started the game as if they couldn't find their game legs. Unlike their three previous losses to the Hawks the Jets didn't quit. The Blackhawks dominated the opening frame outshooting Winnipeg 18-2, and 22-2 over the first 30 minutes.

When a team is dominated to that extent and trails by only one goal they are only one break away from stealing momentum.

The Jets came on, were getting more chances and then got a fortunate bounce. Blake Wheeler tied the game as he found a loose puck and put a shot up high past Corey Crawford's glove hand.

Hard work can lead to good fortune as Marian Hossa made a rare turnover and Andrew Ladd got a gift. The Jets captain sent a wrist shot from between the circles and it deflected off Duncan Keith into the net. Winnipeg added an empty net goal to complete a three goal third period rally and the Blackhawks lost their third straight.

The fourth line seemed to have as many or more scoring chances as the top two lines. That is not necessarily a good thing and especially so as there wasn't much of a contribution from the third line. Brandon Bollig scored the lone Chicago tally on a wraparound shot Montoya should have saved.

Kostka on wing or not, the playing time for the third line has dwindled over recent games.

Michal Handzus played only 7:22 at even strength which was four seconds less than Kostka. Kris Versteeg, who has been lost in the shuffle, was on the ice at even strength for 8:55. To put their workload into context, fourth line players at even strength had considerably more playing time.

It may be somewhat extreme to say the Hawks have been playing a three line game without the third line, but maybe not. When the stars go cold the best teams get a lift from their bottom six forwards. Now much of the help has included only fourth line contributions.

Bickell's lack of effective play is a big issue, no doubt. Handzus looks like a shadow of the player from last year. Versteeg hasn't been bad, but he hasn't been good enough to carry the other two.

Quenneville and his crew have to be somewhat concerned. The next six games before the Olympic break will be on the road.

The road show begins on Tuesday and Wednesday with games in Calgary and Vancouver. On paper the Flames and Canucks represent the best chance to capture a couple of victories. Waiting in the wings are the Sharks, Kings, Ducks, and Coyotes.

Swallow hard Blackhawk fans and hang on tight.

Al's Shots

I'm not going to second guess GM Stan Bowman for his offseason signings. But for those who continue to question the wisdom of playing with eight defensemen, here's my take.

In July when Kostka was signed as a free agent to a two-way contract, I was indifferent. Kotska had a tough season with Toronto and played in only 35 games, but it appeared to be a low risk, depth signing.

My thinking was in training camp Ryan Stanton would get a long look to be the number seven defenseman. He was the most solid blueliner in Rockford over the previous two seasons.

The GM normally constructs the roster but here, Quenneville has a great deal of input. Connecting the dots, Kostka impressed Quenneville more than Stanton during training camp.

Once the decision was made to send Stanton back to Rockford and keep Kostka the current scenario fell into place.

Stanton had to pass through waivers and Vancouver quickly snatched him. In my view Kostka had a better likelihood of clearing waivers than Stanton, but the choice was made. Maybe Bowman and Quenneville underestimated the interest in Stanton, or possibly they thought sending him through waivers was worth the risk.

Once Stanton was gone, the Hawks front office had to be protective of Sheldon Brookbank and Kostka. Only one was needed to spell Michal Rozsival, but now both had to be kept in Chicago.

If either player were to be sent down and claimed the Hawks could be exposed if injuries hit. The youngsters in Rockford who play defense can't be relied on to fill in for any length of time and the same could be said for the veteran Ice Hog defenders.

The reason another forward has not been called up from Rockford is more involved.

Quenneville doesn't mind using a defenseman on the wing. That is an understatement as Kostka had never played wing during his NHL career before Sunday night.

The Blackhawks front office may change their mind sooner rather than later but until now they feel none of the Ice Hog forwards are ready for a promotion. The Hawks don't have a ton of cap space but they have enough to bring up a young forward from Rockford.

If Kostka and Brookbank are on the roster they both need to play from time to time. Players have to get into game action otherwise they grow stale and can be ineffective when called upon. That's why they are used as a wing on occasion. In my view, by design only forwards should play forward, but Quenneville has a different take.

More often than not Quenneville has gotten away with playing Brookbank on wing, although when goals aren't flowing every line needs to produce. For the most part the stars have to shoulder the load and score. Lately they have not come through often enough and using a defenseman at forward draws more angst from fans.

Things could change out of necessity, and if so Joakim Nordstrom would be my guess as the Ice Hog forward who will be promoted first. An acquisition could happen by the March 5 trade deadline as well. Much could depend on the results over the next few weeks.

I will be back on Wednesday morning and you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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