Posted by: kristagolden | February 14, 2012

Losing streaks, stupid rumors and net problems

The Chicago Blackhawks are on the longest, strangest trip of their lives.

The boys haven’t won a game since January 20, when they bested the Florida Panthers at home during a nasty snowstorm that had delayed their game by 30 minutes. After that, the slide began with back-to-back losses against the Nashville Predators and has continued during their three-week, nine-game road trip. The last leg of the trip begins with another game against the Preds on Valentine’s Day.

This slump is so bad that it’s started nasty, ugly whispers about Joel Quenneville’s job being on the line. Q was brought in back in October 2008 to replace Denis Savard after the team failed to make the playoffs in the 2007-08 season. After Quenneville took over, the team not only went to the Western Conference Finals in 2009, but they went on to win the Stanley Cup the next year.

Last year was what we call “Cup hangover”: the boys barely made it into the playoffs (thanks to a greasy win by the Minnesota Wild) but lost in seven games to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Blame it on arrogance because of their Cup win, but I tend to believe that gutting that championship team was to blame – it left them weak defensively. That wasn’t Q’s fault. This year, the boys started off hot, teetered in November, sprang back to life in December and now have cooled off to the point that they’re barely out of ninth place in the Western Conference.

The rumors about Coach have been buzzing for a few days, and it doesn’t help that a few of the Blackhawks beat reporters in Chicago are fueling that rumor by declaring he’s on the hot seat. Q’s been nothing if consistent in his winning ways, and three appearances in the playoffs should vouch for something. And from what the players are saying in the media, there is no dissent in the locker room against him.

All this is pretty hard on the team, and it’s especially telling with goaltenders Corey Crawford and Ray Emery. Both have struggled in net – Corey has a record of 18-14-5 with a 2.99 GAA in 39 games, while Emery is 11-6-2 with a 2.81 GAA in 22 games, and they’ve split net duty on 6 games. As they’ve racked up the losses, they’ve added to their goals-against averages, and now the team’s goal differential is only a plus-3 (compare that to Boston’s plus-64). Naturally, letting so many goals slip past would give a person cause to blame the goalie, but they aren’t (and really shouldn’t) be the only defense the team has. In the case of the Blackhawks, it seems the lack of defense is shaking the confidence in the goalies. Lack of screening by their own D-men has led to quite a few pucks being slung behind them, and when there’s no protection for the goalie, they feel incredibly vulnerable and can only do so much to defend the net.

But Stan Bowman is standing behind both his coach and his goalie tandem, telling Comcast SportsNet Chicago that with the trade deadline a couple of weeks away, getting a new goalie “is not a priority” and that Coach Q isn’t going anywhere:

That’s not the concern for me at all. I’m very confident in Joel’s ability, our coaching staff’s ability. Our players – the effort is there. They’re as frustrated as anybody, you can watch it on the ice. It’s not working. There’s no disputing that, but I don’t buy that assertion (that Quenneville’s message is lost) at all. These players are on board with us. They believe in this group (of coaches). We’re not far. We need to get this turned around, but we’re not far from making it work.

This is the longest losing streak in recent years – they went on a 7-game losing streak in January 2008. But Blackhawks fans can’t lose hope because of one little stat: they had a 6-7-2 record in March 2010…we all know what they did three months later. They’ll snap out of this, and soon it’ll be December all over again.

– Krista

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