By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Slow down the bandwagon. Everybody needs to get on the big, beautiful Chicago schooner. The Blackhawks are on a roll.
One troubling 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs for the beloved does not mean all is well. The Blackhawks have been trending downward since mid-January and endured a nine-game losing streak before reversing field with a four-game winning streak and then following up with a three-game losing streak. Down, up, down.
There are many problems that head coach Joel Quenneville has to manage. Start off with the Hawks’ play in goal.
Once again, Corey Crawford was sent back out between the pipes to start against the Leafs. In his previous start, Quenneville had to pull Crawford against the Los Angeles Kings. He was no better against the Leafs. He gave up three goals in 10 shots and he watched the second and third periods from the bench.
It’s been a miserable season for Crawford.
He is giving up 2.94 goals against per game and his save percentage at a flat 90 percent is a liability. While Ray Emery came on and played well the rest of the way against the Leafs, he has only been a tad better than Crawford. He is allowing 2.72 goals against per game and he is stopping 90.5 percent of the shots he has seen. It’s not just the numbers with either goalie. You get the feeling that they will give up the key goal at the big moment and you are surprised when the big save is made.
General manager Stan Bowman was not interested in upgrading the team’s play in net prior to the trade deadline. While deals were hard to come by overall, Bowman said from the beginning that he didn’t feel a need to go after a new goaltender and pursue a trade. That assessment was a mistake and it may cost the team badly. Adding defenseman Johnny Oduya is a depth move that does not change the team’s skill level very much. Getting rid of goonish John Scott is much ado about nothing.
The biggest problem is the absence of Jonathan Toews, who has missed the last five games with the dreaded upper-body injury. In Toews’s case, this appears to mean a concussion. He is clearly the best player on the Hawks and when they don’t have him in the lineup they are missing a player who can dominate in the face-off circle, have an impact on the defensive end and make things happen with his hustle and drive on the offensive end.
Toews is probably one of the three best players in the league when healthy. When you are dealing with a concussion — excuse me, an upper-body injury – you are not working with any legitimate timetable. Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby has only played a handful of games in the 14 months since he was the victim of a head shot in the 2011 Winter Classic. Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers is done for the year and is showing no signs of getting any better. The Boston Bruins’ Marc Savard has almost certainly seen his career come to an end because of a concussion suffered in 2010.
None of these cases may apply to Toews. However, nobody knows when his symptoms will disappear and when he will start skating with the team again and can prepare to play. The Hawks may win a few games without him, but they can’t advance in the postseason if he is unable to put on his uniform.
Many of the team’s other top players cannot be counted on to produce like Toews. Perhaps that’s not fair, but the effort level of a player like Patrick Kane varies too much from game to game. Kane was amazing against the Leafs, recording a goal and an assist and carrying the play for much of the game. His contribution went well beyond his numbers.
Where has this kind of effort been throughout the year? It’s a lot easier to skate with reckless abandon against the butter-soft Toronto defense than it is against the St. Louis Blues or Detroit Red Wings. Kane needs to do his job a lot better. The same holds for Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith.
The bleeding stopped temporarily against an original six opponent and that has to make the fan base feel good. However, the Hawks still have major problems. The likelihood is that all the championship dreams of December and January are about to evaporate.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.