Duncan Keith says Hawks must pledge to play ‘good team game’

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Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith gives goalie Corey Crawford a head tap after the Chicago Blackhawks held on for a 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks Sunday January 15, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

It might look like there are a range of reasons for why the Blackhawks are mired in an eight-game losing streak, but defenseman Duncan Keith pointed to just one.

He said it’s a lack of commitment from players who need to recognize the team’s true identity. The Hawks aren’t the ridiculously deep, skilled, powerful and fast team they were two seasons ago. They might not even be as good as they were last season.

‘‘I think we understand the way we need to play,” Keith said. ‘‘But it’s a commitment. We’re all naturally born to play a certain way, but .  .  . the way we’re going to win as a team here is by playing a good team game.

‘‘We’re not a team that’s going to be able to come in here and walk through teams and not have to play a good team game. That’s not the team we are.”

In other words, it sounds like some players aren’t fully grasping the need for blocking shots, forechecking, backchecking and other defensive commitments or for making simple plays on offense.

Right now, there is an immense amount of pressure on coach Joel Quenneville to make the right adjustments. While he deserves the chance to finish out the season, it’s really unknown what the Hawks’ regime will do.

This is really the first time under president John McDonough’s watch that there are legitimate reasons to fret about the Hawks’ woes, which certainly weren’t anticipated. McDonough attended a practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West after the first three losses of the Hawks’ road trip and spoke to Quenneville for several minutes. Senior adviser Scotty Bowman then joined the team for the second leg of the trip.

Getting rid of Quenneville or another member of the coaching staff might make things worse, despite the common belief a coaching change typically sparks teams in the short term.

For their part, the Hawks’ stars are standing by Quenneville.

‘‘We all respect Joel and understand what he’s saying,” Keith said.

‘‘The coaches are harping on the right things,” winger Patrick Kane said.

But the players also sound as though they’re waiting for something significant to happen. The splash should come from general manager Stan Bowman. He has defended his goalies, but trading for one has to be explored, although there aren’t many considerable upgrades available. Nevertheless, such a change might be the seismic shift needed to get every player to commit to defense.

‘‘Even when we were in first place, it was tight [in the standings],” Keith said. ‘‘And I think there were a lot of games where we weren’t that good. Now it’s kind of caught up to us.”

From the start of the season, Bowman has planned to use the extra salary-cap room he created by trading defenseman Brian Campbell to improve the Hawks by the trade deadline. Now there’s more pressure on him to do that.

Meanwhile, the Hawks sound less confident in their makeup with every loss.

‘‘You need every guy in the room, that’s the biggest thing about it,” Kane said. ‘‘When we were successful, whether it was last year or the year before, we had a lot of depth, a lot of players stepping up and playing beyond the game. That goes for myself and anyone in the room.”

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