By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) When asked if the disappointment of losing to the Coyotes would stay with him all summer, Jonathan Toews had a refreshing answer.
“I hope so. I think it should,” he said.
The second part of his answer was even more telling.
“It’s gotta be one of those things that motivates you to look for answers and to look for solutions to our problems.”
Are you listening, Stan?
Whether the captain was directing that statement towards Stan Bowman or not, Blackhawks fans will hope the general manger catches wind of Toews’ message and takes action.
Monday night’s season-ending loss to the Coyotes was a microcosm of the Blackhawks’ season. In other words, it was an exhibition of the team’s talent and the problems it couldn’t overcome.
How does a team hold a 39-20 advantage in shots on goal and lose 4-0?
After 40 minutes, if one looked at the stat sheet but ignored the goals, they would have assumed the Blackhawks were the team up 4-0. They had a 28-8 – yes, 28-8 – advantage in shots on goal and had thoroughly out-played the Coyotes for every even-strength minute.
Essentially they lost to one man. And Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith definitely deserves a ton of credit. He was the best player in the series.
But it doesn’t help when point-blank chances miss the net by five feet.
It doesn’t help when breakaway chances aren’t lifted more than a few inches off the ice – even if the goaltender makes a great save.
And it doesn’t help when you get as many shots on goal shorthanded (three) as you do when you’re on the power play.
It also doesn’t help when you refuse to put a body in front of the opposing goaltender and continue to leave unmarked guys open in front of your own net.
Essentially what killed the Blackhawks Monday night was what has killed them since they hoisted the Stanley Cup nearly two years ago.
They’re missing a second-line center and a big body in front of the net. And that’s just the start.
Some – like Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville – will look back on Raffi Torres’ illegal hit on Marian Hossa in Game 3 and say that was the moment where the series turned.
“I always look back at a series and there’s a defining situation that you could say was the turning point,” Quenneville said. “I thought that was probably the one.”
There’s little doubt that was a huge play in the series — and it may very well have been the moment when the series turned in the Coyotes’ favor – but the series was going to turn in their favor anyway.
As long as Mike Smith was playing that well, and as long as the Blackhawks’ power play was that bad, and as long as they refused to put bodies near the crease, and as long as they refused to keep opponents out of their own crease, the Blackhawks weren’t going to win the series.
Hell, it took them nearly five games to realize they needed to start by simply putting the puck on net.
There’s no question the Blackhawks have a ton of talent. That’s why they looked like one of the best teams in the NHL for a good portion of the season. And that’s why they were able to blitz the Coyotes for the majority of the game Monday night.
But there’s also no question that this team is missing key pieces. And that fact is clearly not lost on captain Jonathan Toews, who, again, is hoping the Blackhawks’ latest first-round exit “motivates you to look for answers and to look for solutions to our problems.”
If “you” isn’t Stan Bowman, then it should be.
Some will argue that one of those “problems” is goaltender Corey Crawford, who was wildly inconsistent for most of the season. And while it wasn’t really his fault, Crawford’s answer to essentially the same question Toews answered was noteworthy.
Asked how long it would take to “shake this off”, Crawford said: “Shake what off?”
After the question was repeated and clarified, Crawford responded:
“It’s tough. Nothing I can do about it now.”
To his credit, Crawford saved himself by adding: “You just got to learn from it. Not take it negatively. You got to pull some positives out of there and whatever negative stuff there is, you just got to try to turn it in your favor and learn from it and try to get better from it.”
That would be a start. An important start. But that’s hardly the only work that needs to be done this summer.
Most of that work falls on the desk of Stan Bowman. Remember, your captain is watching.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the White Sox, Blackhawks and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.