Joel Quenneville’s patience wearing thin with slumping Blackhawks
There’s nothing unusual about hearing coach Joel Quenneville throwing around a few F-bombs. Heck, during a hockey game, it’s basically ambient noise, like the scratching of skates across ice, or the rumbling hum of a Zamboni.
But Tuesday was different. The Blackhawks’ post-practice huddle is usually time for a quick overview of what Quenneville wants to see at the next game and a mini pep talk. A quick stick tap, and players then disperse and work on whatever they want to work on — faceoffs, stickhandling, deflections, whatever.
On Tuesday, though, the players gathered around the center circle gasping for breath, having just been punished with a series of lung-searing laps. And Quenneville’s curses were aimed directly at them.
“I didn’t like the last part of our practice,” Quenneville said later. “The intensity and the pace went down to a tough-to-watch [level]. It was just, ‘Let’s go.’”
After Quenneville chastised his players and stormed off the ice, there was uncomfortable silence in the United Center for a minute or two before everyone finally went back to work. After losing five of six games, the message was clear: It’s time for some urgency.
“Those are never fun,” veteran defenseman Cody Franson said of the laps. “But you know what, it’s great. Losing is not acceptable here. It’s amazing to me how calm and level-headed our room has stayed through adversity like this. This is kind of the first time I’ve experienced something like that. Usually, there’s a ton of panic.”
Indeed, that it’s taken this long for Quenneville to lose his temper is a testament to that Hawks’ hallmark of never getting too high, and never getting too low. That it’s come to this point is a sign that a new, more desperate attitude might be in order.
With that in mind, Quenneville has shaken up his lineup once again, the third straight game in which he has tried something new. Now Brandon Saad will be on Patrick Kane’s line, and Alex DeBrincat will be on his preferred left side with Jonathan Toews. Franson, who has played in just three games but has looked good in all three of them, jumps up to the top pairing alongside Duncan Keith. And with Gustav Forsling out with an apparent head injury, Jan Rutta will play on the left side for the first time in years. The power-play units have been overhauled, too, with Quenneville tinkering with different personnel and different formations to freshen a stale, ineffective look.
Anything to get the Hawks going.
“We have a deep team,” said Saad, who had great success with Kane in a brief stint together during the 2014 playoffs. “Regardless of who you’re with, you’re playing with a good hockey player. [Quenneville] is looking at different looks and we need to regroup right now and get back to playing the right way.”
Franson isn’t the only newcomer who has been impressed with the Hawks’ even keel throughout a difficult stretch. Rutta said other teams he’s been on would be “panicking” right now. Connor Murphy noted that the Hawks weren’t getting over-excited after annihilating the Penguins and Blue Jackets by a combined 15-2 score in the first two games of the season.
“The guys here know it’s a long year,” Murphy said. “There’s a level-headedness here. You can tell guys take it upon themselves to know when you’re in a slump and when to push to get out of it.”
The Hawks haven’t scored on 15 straight power plays. They’ve scored just 23 goals in the 10 games since their opening outburst. They’re giving up 34.5 shots per game. Their lack of speed on the back end is glaring.
A change in attitude won’t solve all those problems. But it wouldn’t hurt, either.
“We want to get off to a good start this year, and the first few games I thought we did that,” Patrick Sharp said. “And then every game recently, it’s been a different story. It starts with good practice habits. [Let’s] raise the level of intensity, raise the level of urgency a little bit across the board, and get back on the winning side.”
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