Clowns suck.

Myself, Jim and Tim decided to touch on a few issues heading into the annual Circus Trip. Three idiots, three questions. Get some.

1) Just when Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith seemed to be regaining their form together, Seabrook goes down with an injury which may keep him out as the ‘Hawks embark on the annual Circus Trip. How will Seabrook’s absence affect the defensive corps, and who will you be looking for to step up?

Jim: Ugh. Seabrook going down sure took a bit of the fun out of an otherwise fantastic Sunday for Chicago sports fans. The timing of this is fucking horrible and certainly dampens the outlook as the Hawks head out on the Oregon Trail. Seabrook brings the mean back on the Hawks blue line and he certainly would have been nice to have in the Vancouver and Anaheim games – two teams which bring it physically. God only knows what this does to the pairings. Does Q revert back to Keith and Leddy, or does he let Monty step up into the first pair and keep Hjammer and Leddy together? Hjammer is going to have to be the physical force back there and Nick Leddy is going to have to continue to eat up important minutes (27 against Edmonton). The biggest impact will be on Duncan Keith. #2 will be asked to pick up the load (especially on the PK), much as Seabrook did when he went down. I think Duncs will be equal to the task. The absolute worst part of all of this? You guess it.….more John Scott. Shoot me now.

Tim: I think we saw a decent picture of how this group will adjust to the absence of one of its leaders with the Keith hand injury. That’s a very positive sign. And just like in those games, I hope Coach Q has the sense to dress 6 qualified defensemen, instead of John Scott.

As for who needs to step up, the name we have heard precious little of so far this season is Niklas Hjalmarsson. Granted, at least he isn’t getting nightly delay-of-game penalties anymore. But he needs to make more of an impact out there on a nightly basis. So far he’s been largely invisible.

Bartl: Seabrook stepped up when Keith was out, now Keith is going to have to do the same with his rekindled partner sidelined. While Hammer quite obviously will need to step up his game, that’s something we’ve known for quite some time now. The defensive deficiencies lie with Scott, Lepisto and/or O’Donnell to play smart, sound hockey. While that those qualities waived bye-bye to Scott a long time ago, it’s the other two I’m concerned about. Neither have been able to crack the lineup ahead of that elephant on skates, and having to rely in decent minutes from either of them racks my brain. Aside from that Montador likely won’t be seeing as much time at forward given he’ll need to play more minutes on D, and taking away a hot stick from a clicking offense is rarely good.

2) Despite some injuries and a special teams unit which has reeked of diarrhea for the most part, the ‘Hawks lead the Western Conference. What has been the major reason for their success, and what needs to continue in order for the Blackhawks to keep up their solid pace?

Jim: It’s pretty simple, I guess. The Hawks roll perhaps the deepest top 9 in the entire league and opposing teams simply have no idea which line they should be checking.  Do you put your best defensive unit out there against the Toews line or Kane line? Either way, the Hawks have guys that are going to kill you. As long as the top 6 is playing even average hockey, the Blackhawks are extremely tough to match-up with. Bolland’s line has been as good defensively as expected, and Q has a 4th line he trusts for the 1st time since he hoisted the Stanley Cup. The best part is that the Hawks almost certainly have not played anywhere near their best hockey yet. The defense has been a question mark at times but has not been bad by any means. Q needs to figure out what he wants the pairings to be and then he needs to stick with it. If Leddy and Hjammer are going to be the second pair, they need to start to get a feel for each other. My two cents: keep Seabs and Keith together. It was working well before Seabs went down.

Tim: I think we should divide the season into two parts so far: before the 3-game losing streak, and during/after the three-game losing streak. Before, we had some minor chemistry issues on D, but overall the team was settling into a groove at forward and delivering pretty much every night.

Since then it’s been a mixed bag, with more bad than good. Our defensive chemistry got worse, and our forwards started looking like the Keystone Kops on acid. We owe 2 of our last 3 wins to one pathetic goaltender and one having a rare off-night. Otherwise we could be 1-5 in our last 6. We need to return to that pre-losing-streak form if we’re going to hold this position in the standings.

Bartl: Kind of understated during this solid start has been the play of Marian Hossa, who for better or worse flies a bit under the radar with the rest of the star power on this team. His 18 points are one thing, but the man’s sheer ability to tell defenders to fuck off when they attempt to get the puck is simply heroic. The backchecking and overall two-way play has been a huge reason the ‘Hawks are where they are right now.

Improvement lies in many aspects with special teams being the obvious, but I’m looking for more solid play out of Corey Crawford going forward. His 3.23 GAA over the last nine games makes it seem as if the ‘Hawks are winning in spite of him and not because of him. While neither scenario is life or death, it should be known that his stats aren’t up to par right now.

3) With that said, what are the most important improvements/adjustments the ‘Hawks need to make going forward?

Jim: The obvious answer here would be improvement on special teams. Of course they need to start converting on the power play, but does anyone think they won’t? The Penalty Kill really wasn’t even all that horrible before the Vancouver massacre and there isn’t any reason to think that the performance against the Canucks will be repeated anytime soon. Obviously, getting Bolland and Seabrook back quickly will help in this regard as well. Corey Crawford also needs to tighten up. While nobody should be calling for more Ray Emery, Crow has had a few too many shaky games for comfort lately (4 straight games with 3 or more goals allowed) and the Hawks are going to need him on his game if they hope to have a successful trip.  The Hawks did well to stockpile points up until now while the schedule wasn’t all that tough. Let’s just hope they don’t rest on their laurels now. Get healthy and come out of this trip with 6 or 7 points and they can return to Chicago feeling good about themselves and their position in the West.

Another thing, isn’t it fucked up that this won’t even be the longest road trip of the season?

Tim: Most important is to get this team into a groove again: solidify the lines, build the chemistry. The Calgary win was our best performance since the losing streak, which is a very positive sign.

As for improvements, two words — Power. Play. We get that number up over 20% again, we’ll be in a position to win many more games.

Bartl: The other two mentioned it best – special teams. They’re 23rd in the league on the power play (13.2 percent) and 26th on the kill (76.4 percent). Completely unacceptable, and you can bet the ‘Hawks won’t be atop the West by Jan. 1 if this shit keeps up. How does it change? Luckily that’s not my job to figure out. And it might not be Mike Kitchen’s much longer, either.

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