The Chicago Blackhawks flew home from Anaheim last night with clipped wings and landed somewhere they haven’t been all season:
The bird cage.
Now they’ve got 96 hours to lick their wounds and decide how they want to attack the final 19 games of the season. The good news is history tells us that a cage is a great place to get some serious thinking done, and since the Hawks find themselves under suspicion for the first time all year, a bit of introspection could hit the spot.
Day one in the cage needs to be about getting healthy. With Marian Hossa day-to-day, and no time table set for Patrick Sharp’s return, the Hawks need to make sure that Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Andrew Shaw are well pampered and loved during their time behind bars.
Bryan Bickell and Victor Stalberg have also given the Hawks a boost this season and so they too should be well fed and nurtured during this crucial time. Heading into the final third of the season being healthy is imperative for the Hawks to hang onto to home ice throughout the playoffs and so I’m hoping only the finest meats and cheeses are set aside for the road weary war birds.
Day two should be spent in the situation room trying to figure out what to do with the two exceptional goalies the Hawks are carrying. Both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery are having exceptional seasons and so at a certain point—say during a four day break in the schedule—a plan needs to be formulated as to which horse the team is going to ride as they head towards the playoffs.
As luxurious as it is to pick a name out of a hat and throw an all-star on the ice, the problem that develops is creeping anxiety. Goalies need to know that they can have a bad night and still be the man, and unfortunately this is difficult to cultivate when Coach Joel Quenneville can simply switch from one tender to the other with no concern of a drop off in talent.
Toss in the fact that Crawford’s mental make-up has been questioned in the past, AND that Emery has past experience leading a team deep into the playoffs (Emery led the Ottawa Senators in 2006-07 to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost to…wince…the Anaheim Ducks) and suddenly you’re one three game losing streak from serious goalie drama. Sadly I have no solution to this problem, and so I suggest a jousting match or perhaps some Sabre fencing to decide who deserves the title of undisputed starter.
Day three should be spent in lotus position looking DEEP inside. The Hawks need to remind themselves they just set an incredible record to start the season, took three of four on their last real road trip (of the 18 games that remain only once do they have consecutive road games) and that they’re home for all but seven of the remaining games.
If that isn’t enough to re-enforce the belief that YES, they are all they were cracked up to be, I don’t know what is. So what if Anaheim has them 0-1-1 thus far? Put a star on the calendar March 29th and make sure to bring some brass knuckles to the United Center for the final brawl vs. the Ducks. Half of hockey—pro sports really—is in between the ears and in the NHL playoffs teams smell fear like Maine State Troopers so confidence is KEY moving forward.
Day four needs to be spent in the film room watching The Karate Kid. It’s time to sweep the leg and finish the season the same way it began. Half of the final 18 games are against teams out of the playoffs and another five are home games teams currently in. The plan is simple: win your home games and beat the chumps and you’re in business. No mercy Daniel-san.
On day five the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings come to town and are a very different team than the Hawks pounded in LA in January. I suggest Coach Q bring in Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross and toss him into the cage for a pep talk just before the puck drops. Hopefully the message comes across:
“Coffee is for closers.”