Joel Quenneville’s frown has taken a turn for the worse. It’s on a decidedly southern course that threatens to turn into a full-blown pout, quivering chin and all.
That’s right, it’s What’s Wrong With the Blackhawks Time!
This is one of my favorite times of the year, though I should point out that it can occur anywhere from October to June. It’s the annual fretting about something that ails the Hawks.
This time, 15 games into the season, it’s a lack of scoring. At 2.87 goals a game, the Hawks are 18th out of 31 NHL teams.
There are all sorts of theories about why this is, from the wrong people being put on the wrong lines to some of the usually reliable scorers getting older to the End Times being upon us. Sun-Times colleague Mark Lazerus asked Quenneville after the Hawks’ 2-0 loss Sunday to the Canadiens if it was time to start worrying about the lack of goals.
‘‘Starting to think about it,’’ the coach said somberly.
You could hear the United Center air-raid sirens blaring from miles away.
What’s wrong with Jonathan Toews? And Brandon Saad? And Richard Panik?
It’s a good thing goalie Corey Crawford is playing well because there would be an all-out assault on him if he were deemed the cause of the Hawks’ woes. He’s a favorite target, a leg-padded piñata, of a segment of fans.
One of these days, all the theorists’ theories will end up being right. Toews will lose the strength that made him so great. Patrick Kane’s motor skills won’t be able to power that slick stickhandling anymore. Duncan Keith eventually will retire — at 90.
Is it time to panic? I would argue that 15 games in is a bit too soon for a full-on freak-out.
In the meantime, there’s a simpler explanation that covers everything, and I promise it will make you feel better in the short term. It’s my fallback answer for whatever happens on the ice.
Several times during the game Sunday, the puck was just out of reach of Hawks skaters for the perfect shot. Other times, they couldn’t quite get their sticks in position at the right time at the net to score.
That’s because it’s hockey.
Things happen. The puck isn’t a ball. It’s unpredictable, especially when it’s bouncing off sticks and players. And what looks like a sure-thing goal in slow-motion replays is, in reality, a bang-bang play in which something wasn’t quite right in a split-second in real time. Or, as I like to put it, it happens.
It might turn out that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the Hawks, who are 7-6-2 and — gasp! — wouldn’t even be a wild-card team if the playoffs started today. Hold on . . . checking . . . nope, the playoffs don’t start today. They start in five months.
Shouldn’t there be a rule against worrying about anything concerning the Hawks until, say, March? I know getting angry about the power play is how a lot of people stay warm in the winter. But maybe turn it down from a bonfire to a blaze? It’s a long season. I worry about you people.
The bigger concern, of course, is whether the kinda-dynasty Hawks have come down to earth for good. They were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round the last two seasons, and even though they won a Western Conference-leading 50 games last season, they lost four games in a row to the Predators in the postseason. So, yeah, the angst has as much to do with the recent past as it does the present. And, OK, the Hawks scored a combined three goals in those four losses.
I don’t want to minimize the possibility that the world is going to end tomorrow. All the signs are there. Earthquakes. Mudslides. LaVar Ball.
But there is still talent on this team. The Hawks still are getting a lot of shots on net, though not as many rebound opportunities as the number of shots suggest they should be getting. That involves players working harder to get in front of the net. That’s effort. That’s fixable.
There might be some holes on the roster. Or not. How about giving it some time before going off the deep end again?
The race is on to predict who gets canned first, Quenneville or general manager Stan Bowman. Maybe they both will stay after a long run in the postseason. Wait, another title run isn’t a possibility? Because the dream is over?
OK, if you say so. I’d just remind you of one thing:
It’s hockey. And it’s early yet.
Hold on, that’s two things. Two. Isn’t that the Hawks’ goals-per-game average?
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.