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Zawaski's Shorties: Blackhawks Win, But Troubles Not Masked

By Jay Zawaski--

(CBS) For the better part of 50 minutes Sunday night, the Blackhawks found themselves in familiar territory: trailing an inferior team, turning the puck over and battling their own mental errors. Then, as the Blackhawks have done several times before, they buckled down and took over the game. With 31 seconds left, Jonathan Toews redirected a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot, and Chicago escaped with two points in a 4-3 win.

While huge for the Blackhawks, the win masks the fact that they played another subpar game. When the puck dropped, Chicago had fallen to fourth in the Central Division (one point behind Minnesota) and was in possession of the first wild-card spot. While it's highly unlikely that the Blackhawks miss the playoffs, I find myself asking, "What will it take for this team to finally wake up?"

Two weeks ago, we had a tease. Chicago had won six times in seven games and looked as if it had gotten back into playoff mode. Well, that stretch was followed up with a 4-0 loss at Dallas, a suspicious 3-1 win over Carolina, a 4-1 blasting in Philadelphia and a 5-2 spanking to Columbus at home. If you're keeping track, those are four teams that won't make the playoffs this season.

We've seen this team coast into the playoffs before, but the problems that have plagued the Blackhawks all season haven't gone away. Usually, I'm convinced they'll be able to just turn it on. I'm not as confident this season. If this version of the Blackhawks is going to escape the first round of the playoffs, they need a major adjustment and to recommitment their focus.

Now on to the observations of the night.

Shaw-nuff: It's been a tough season for Andrew Shaw. After a 20-goal, 39-point season last year from Shaw, the Blackhawks were expecting him to take an even bigger step this season. It didn't happen and once appeared as if Shaw was just what he was projected to be in his career -- a guy. His play had planted him firmly on the fourth line, where he was left to hit, agitate and check.

Since then, he's been a much different and much more effective player. Shaw's at his best when he's planted in front of the net and angering opponents. That part of Shaw's game has been pronounced lately, and lo and behold, it's leading to goals, four in his last four games to be exact. Shaw can be a difference-maker when put in the right situation. Hopefully his success doesn't get him a "promotion."

Ver-klempt: When general manager Stan Bowman traded a first-round pick to acquire Antoine Vermette, I'm not sure he intended him to be a third-line winger who only plays at even strength. The vision was for Vermette to take over the second-line enter position, take key face-offs, kill penalties and contribute on the power play.

On Sunday, Vermette took one face-off. He played one second on the penalty kill and zero seconds on the power play. Instead, Quenneville decided to use Kris Versteeg on the penalty kill. That didn't work out so well, as this video illustrates.

Versteeg had the old XBOX controller die on him on that play. Some of Quenneville's roster decisions are mind boggling, but perhaps none more so than his use of Vermette.

Babcock watch?: The future of Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has been a hot topic around the NHL lately. Babcock is considered by most to be the best coach in the NHL. After this season, he will be a free agent, which has left some asking if it makes sense for the Blackhawks to move on from Joel Quenneville and bring in Babcock. I'm all for the move. Let me explain why.

When the best coach becomes available in any sport, a team owes it to themselves and the fans to at least gauge interest. Think of it this way: If Gregg Popovich suddenly became available, shouldn't every NBA team inquire? The Cubs were happy with Rick Renteria's management, but the second that Joe Maddon became available, the Cubs made their move. John Fox is a quality NFL coach. He's in the top-third for sure, but if Bill Belichick wanted out of New England, shouldn't the Bears sniff around?

Wanting Babcock isn't a shot at Quenneville. The only circumstance in which I'd condone getting rid of Quenneville would be the hiring of Babcock. That's the only circumstance.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.

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