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Blackhawks Fri Jan 14 2011

Hawks Struggle For Consistency

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for blackhawks.gifThe Blackhawks are looking good as they begin the second half of the season, winning three of four games at the United Center with back-to-back shutouts by Corey Crawford and two of their more dominant performances this year. To top off the successful week, the two Patricks (Kane and Sharp) got word they'd be joining teammates Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith for the All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C., Jan. 30. Pittsburgh is the only other team that will have four all-star representatives.

Yet despite the individual accolades, Chicago's performance across the first half of the season has hardly been all-star caliber. There's been some unexpected successes along the way, but the single word that sums up the Hawks so far is inconsistent. Here's a look at the struggles Chicago has gone through in their first 41 games.

With a handful of new faces and a short summer and Stanley Cup hangover to contend with, the last thing the Blackhawks needed was what the schedule-makers gave them: a packed first two months that saw them play 27 games, more than any other team in the Western Conference.

Given that, it's not surprising it took some time for some chemistry to develop, especially with Joel Quenneville constantly juggling lines. On top of that, a core group of Hawks played more than 110 total games last season when you count those who represented their countries in the Olympics. Given the short turnaround and the sheer workload, getting pumped up for a game against the Oilers in October may not have been a priority. But losing at home to woeful teams like Edmonton and New Jersey is the reason the Blackhawks are mired in such a tight race now.

And really, that's been the main issue the Hawks have battled all year: motivation and focus. There were far too many times where the effort just wasn't there the first few months, whether they were losing every puck battle or failing to finish checks or giving up lazy passes. Lack of focus also played a role in the Hawks giving up goals all the time after either team scored, something that seemed to happen nearly every game at the start of the year.

Whatever the reason, the Blackhawks had a hard time putting together a full 60 minutes of play. While they were able to skate by on talent alone last year, now that they're at the top, opponents weren't letting up and looking to make a statement against the defending champs. A few facts make this all too clear: Chicago leads the league in goals allowed in the third period with 51, and 11 of their 18 losses have been by one goal, giving new meaning to the team's "One Goal" marketing campaign.

The Hawks had their fair share of injuries as well, as Brian Campbell missed the first month of the season and Kane, Toews, Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland have all missed time since. Really, the loss of both Hossa and Kane in early December helped focus the team to the reality of its play. Toews and other players stepped up in the pair's absence, putting together a four-game win streak. Of course, the inconsistency to this point meant it was followed by a three-game losing streak, but it was a lot harder to pin those defeats on a lack of effort.

Now that the Blackhawks are fully healthy and fighting, stronger games like the last two victories are seeming to come a little more often. If the Hawks hope to continue that play into the postseason, that consistency that's been starting to appear needs to stick around.

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