In a surprising move Tuesday morning, the Chicago Blackhawks parted ways with the most successful coach of this decade, Joel Quenneville. The Hawks jumped out to a solid start at 6-2-2 but have stumbled since going 0-5.
Last year, the Blackhawks finished 25th in the league and had one of the worst team defenses in the NHL. Part of the reason for their poor season was the fact that star goalie Corey Crawford only played 28 games due to injury. However, as great as Crawford is, we’re seeing this year that he can only mask their issues to a certain degree.
Like last year, the Blackhawks have horrendous defensive zone awareness. Defenders leave guys open all over the place and are constantly a step behind when it comes to covering their man. A perfect example of this can be seen on a goal scored a few nights ago by Zach Sanford of the St.Louis Blues.
Every Blackhawk player on the ice gets caught puck watching and the Blues are able to make two passes right through the slot. That’s unacceptable defending. It starts with all three forwards looking like it’s time to go on offense only to realize that they don’t have the puck and then make a big loop. Both Jonathan Toews and Henri Jokiharju go for the same guy leaving David Perron wide open for a cross-ice pass, forcing Duncan Keith to make a split-second decision to leave his man, who Perron finds with a nice pass.
This is the type of defense you see when a team is just out for a skate and it’s the same defense we saw last year when the Hawks ranked at or near the bottom in the league in almost every category related to defending the slot.
Quenneville is a Hall of Fame worthy coach but his players too often played like a group no longer hearing his message. For the Blackhawks to get back to their winning ways they need their new coach, Jeremy Colliton, to recognize their failure to protect their slot and find a way to reinvigorate this team into caring about their defensive play. Every player loves to play offense and score goals but unless you’re willing to put in the work defensively you won’t get to the fun part on offense.
The Blackhawks have other issues, namely their power play, but their biggest issue is their team defense. A coaching change can help fix these problems but the Hawks defense just isn’t strong enough to expect things to get much better and that falls on management to upgrade their roster. If they’re willing to part ways with their Hall of Fame-worthy coach, then their GM Stan Bowman better be feeling the heat because he could be next in line to go.
(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)