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McKnight: Injuries Holding Back Blackhawks

By Connor McKnight--

What's hurting the Hawks right now is exactly that:  Hurt.  With Brian Campbell, Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland all missing games lately the Hawks are missing three of their best defensive players.  Defense, by the way, is where the Hawks need to shore up quick.

The Hawks have consistently given up plenty of quality chances and shots-on-goal.  Only in the last two games have the Hawks been able to out-shoot their opponent and only one of those games was a win.

Friday's 7-4 loss to the Oilers was easily the worst game of the season so far.  Even thought the Hawks managed to stay relatively close by scoring four goals of their own, at no point did it feel like the 6-5 comeback win over Calgary last year.  And it shouldn't, this isn't the same team.

Instead it's a team that needs Brian Campbell to come back and solidify the defensive pairings.  With Campbell back in the rotation, Joel Quenneville will be able to stick with four defencemen at the top of the rotation.  Campbell provided a spark to the offense as well when he returned to the team against Nashville in the first round of the playoffs.

Its no secret Hossa provides as much offense as any player in the league but the Hawks miss other aspects of his game as well.  With Hossa out of the lineup, the Hawks are missing their best cycle player.  Hossa's ability to control the puck allows the Hawks to get into an offense and set a tempo.  That leads to zone time, shots on goal and scoring.
Missing Bolland is especially worrisome for the Hawks at this point.  Bolland fills a dual role as a third line center.  He's able to check against another team's top line and provide a scoring threat while doing so.

What's going to get this team to the playoffs is defensive play and depth on the bench.  While a commitment to defense did show up in Saturday's game against the Wild, depth on the bench is going to take some time to figure out.  Jake Dowell's three goals in three games is nice to see but players like Viktor Stalberg, Jack Skille and Troy Brouwer who need to step up.
With streaky scorers like Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp on the team, it's ancillary production that will get the Hawks through tough stretches.  Last season it was Brouwer's 22 goals, Kris Versteeg's 20 and Andrew Ladd's 17 that pushed the Hawks to success.  It's easy to survive dry spells when the third and fourth lines are scoring.

Still, it's not the offense that's keeping the Hawks grounded.  Goals will come and plenty of teams have made a run to the playoffs by scoring three-goals per game.  Joel Quenneville has preached defensive responsibility to this team since the opening of training camp and, so far, he's not been getting a consistent response.  The easiest way to make offense is holding on to the puck.  Puck possession got the Hawks where they wanted to go last season and will help solidify them this year.

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