As a Canucks fan, I think I'm supposed to be cackling with churlish glee at the recent struggles of the Chicago Blackhawks, who extended their losing streak to eight games after Friday's 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks and (UPDATED)Saturday's 3-0 downer against the Phoenix Coyotes.
After the Sharks game, Blackhawks' blog Indian Head Nation wrote, "The Hawks win that one with Emery in net." That should make me laugh out loud.
Chicago's Daily Herald columnist Barry Rozner Tweeted, "Thornton legendary for disappearing when things get rough but suddenly he's tough against little Jonathan Toews." The notion that the incredibly tough Jonathan Toews is suddenly some shrinking violet should have made me howl.
After all, for two years, the Blackhawks' goaltending and captain have been praised for their warriorism and their clutchiness, but over this panic-inducing stretch, the sheen has come off of both -- suddenly, Ray Emery has become the answer and Toews has shrunk. I should be relishing this.
But my heart, like a bland hot dog, is without relish. This just sucks.
With every loss, everything that makes the Blackhawks awesome comes into question -- their clutch goaltending and their clutch captain are just the beginning. Soon, someone will come for their identity.
The Blackhawks are one of only six teams averaging three goals per game. They play a high-octane system, more concerned with scoring than preventing. The problem: they're also one of only five teams in the NHL that averages three or more goals against per game. The other four: Carolina, Ottawa, Columbus, and Tampa Bay. That's bad company, and bad company can only reflect poorly on you, a lesson Sir Ben Kingsley learned when he joined the cast of BloodRayne.
If the Blackhawks don't right the ship soon, someone is bound to come for that sexy, high-octane offense.
We're already seeing the signs of it, as Chicago worked on their defensive positioning prior to the game in San Jose. From the Chicago Sun-Times:
"We probably let it slide a little when we were scoring many goals and weren't looking to prevent them at a regular rate," Quenneville said. "Especially on the road, we want to play tight, and we want to be responsible. An awareness of our positioning is what we're talking about."
On Wednesday, it was accompanied by more chalkboard instruction as the Hawks worked in the neutral zone with a variation of the 1-2-2 trap for their game against the San Jose Sharks on Friday.
I have bolded the word that makes my heart weep. GOD NO.
Of course, Quenneville has to try battening down the hatches somewhat. When you surrender 27 goals over six consecutive losses, not to mention turn Sam Gagner into the second coming of Wayne Gretzky, you're doing it wrong. The fact that nothing changed versus San Jose only makes things worse.
Some are already pointing the finger at Quenneville and GM Stan Bowman, the men who constructed this team's identity. Here's Al Cimaglia from My Fox Chicago on Quenneville's decision to bench Viktor Stalberg in the third period Friday versus the Sharks:
Quenneville has been slow to react and has been reluctant to change this season. His message to Stalberg and others has fallen on deaf ears. Quenneville has been more a part of the Hawks problems than a solution.
Although Coach Q. was correct in thinking a message must be sent to Stalberg it was the wrong time to do so. Having a shallow lineup because of injury and the flu makes it a punishment for the whole team to play short a forward.
So Quenneville was caught delivering the right message at the wrong time. Quenneville can't be held blameless this season nor should GM Bowman.
The Blackhawks are one of the last bastions of the high-octane offense, and if they continue to struggle, or worse, miss the playoffs, you have to believe that Quenneville's system will be marked for demolition, especially after what happened to Bruce Boudreau in Washington.
It seems a far-fetched notion to suggest that the Hawks could miss the playoffs this season, regardless of how bad things get, but their schedule won't help. From the same article:
Speaking of playoff hopes slipping away, the Hawks aren't at that point yet, but don't think it would be impossible to miss the post season. It has been reported the Hawks have the most difficult schedule remaining of any Western Conference club except for Nashville. The Hawks can't rely on any scheduling favors from here on out.
The highly-entertaining identity of the Blackhawks may rest in the balance this season. A playoff berth and they may stay as they are. A playoff miss and they may be due for a lobotomy.
Regardless of where your allegiances lie, that's a scary thought. I've seen my fair share of cyberpunk films, but a future without the high-octane Chicago Blackhawks as we know them is the worst future imaginable.