Another part-time effort as Hawks deal with dog days of winter

Another part-time effort as Hawks deal with dog days of winter

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The Chicago Blackhawks didn't have an awful effort on Wednesday night. Best to say it was a part-time effort and that won't suffice when playing a desperate team. The Hawks put themselves in a two-goal hole but fought back only to drop a 3-2 decision to the New York Rangers.

Both goaltenders, Corey Crawford and Henrik Lundqvist allowed goals they normally would stop. It wouldn't be fair to hang the loss on Crawford alone, he was very good at times but allowing two soft goals usually will spell doom. Lundqvist had only one goal he would like to have back and in some ways that was the difference.

Rather than boil it down to the goalies it matters more to understand the Hawks haven't been firing on all cylinders for awhile. Sometimes it is easy to overlook the flaws because this team can win when not at its best.

What happens at this time of the season is the reality of the situation hits home for many teams. Statistically it is not a winning recipe to be outside of the playoff picture at the end of December. Those clubs on the bubble at the holidays realize they need to get in gear quickly, or they will be on the golf course in early spring. The Rangers are in that category and at the opposite end of the pile are the Blackhawks.

So far the Blackhawks have surprised many by not showing ill effects of a Stanley Cup hangover. They are positioned near the top of the NHL but there are teams that can overtake them. Even so the Hawks probably feel good about themselves. That's the danger, as complacency could set in and with that come more losses than wins.

Wednesday night, as has been the case recently, there were times when the Blackhawks looked dominant. Other times, as has also been the case, they looked like an average team.

Noticeably the Chicago defensemen were put back on their heels by the NY forwards. The Rangers wanted the game more, they won the majority of battles and made fewer mistakes. The Hawks didn't play poorly, it was just not good enough.

What's coming could be the most defining stretch of the schedule for Chicago.

There are 10 games left in January, five at home and five on the road. Of the remaining games this month only three are against teams which aren't in the playoff hunt.

In February the Hawks play four road games and then comes the Olympic break, followed by one more road contest which will complete the month. The first four road affairs will be against strong clubs out West. So 10 of the next 15 games will be on the road and will include difficult foes.

The Blackhawks will hope to not tread water over the next 15 games but rather solidify their place in the upper echelon of the NHL. For that to happen a few things will need to improve.

Bryan Bickell currently lacks confidence, at least that is what he, Joel Quenneville and seemingly everyone else is saying. As Bickell has slumped so has Andrew Shaw and thus the third line hasn't been as effective.

Maybe Joel Quenneville had an epiphany as Michal Handzus was dropped down to the fourth line versus the Rangers. Marcus Kruger got a bump up to the second line. How long the change lasts is unknown but Quenneville may feel some pressure as Patrick Kane has gone quiet for a few games.

The Blackhawks will have some time off between games over the next 11 days to correct issues in practice. After Saturday night's contest in Montreal, the next four battles will be held at the United Center. Quenneville will be looking to get his troops back on track and to take full advantage of home ice.

The dog days of winter are here. Although the Blackhawks have the talent they will need stronger focus and renewed desire to stay ahead of the pack.

Al's Shots

At the risk of being accused of not being patriotic, I have reservations about the Olympics this time around. The Hawks send 10 players overseas to represent their given countries and fans should be on edge. The difference between many teams is so slight that injuries and fatigue will make a huge difference heading into the playoffs.

Make no mistake Olympic hockey is usually great viewing, but it would be surprising if this experience will compare to last time in Vancouver.

The time difference alone will put a crimp on things. That along with the fact I'm having a difficult time wrapping my head around some of the selections for the U.S. team. I can't be sure what type of club the American selection committee was trying to assemble.

Brent Seabrook would have likely made the Canadian club if he was left handed because head coach Mike Babcock likes right/left point combinations.

Logically only two of three; P.K. Subban, Dan Hamhuis a lefty, and Seabrook could make the team. Seabrook drew the short straw but should be first call if there is an injury. With or without Seabrook, Canada has a great club, the only trepidation should be concerning their goaltending.

I find it interesting the way some things play out.

The Blackhawks announced Nikolai Khabibulin underwent successful rotator cuff surgery and will be out four to five months. For those of you who are confused don't be.

Khabibulin wasn't out of the lineup originally because of a shoulder injury, but there isn't any urgency to have him back.

It appeared to all who were watching, and also was reported, Khabibulin suffered a lower body injury. Certainly there could have been a lingering issue with his shoulder and this an opportune time to take an extended stay in sick bay with the emergence of Antti Raanta.

If memory serves me the Hawks had some salary cap issues after the signing of Brian Campbell in 2008, and Brent Sopel suffered an injury. The club survived and Sopel had not one but two surgeries on his elbows and played in only 23 games. It turned out well for all concerned as Sopel returned for the playoffs, and then was a big part of the Stanley Cup win the following season. It should be noted roster limits aren't an issue after the trade deadline.

More likely than not the 40-year-old Khabibulin will never play another game for the Blackhawks and he may have reached the end of the line. Hopefully his shoulder won't give him any issues in retirement.

You can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia and I will back on Sunday morning.

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