It was probably right around the 11th minute John Scott played last night for the Chicago Blackhawks that one began to wonder what the hell is going on with this team right now.
Scott's 11:16 wasn't just a season-high in his five games in 2011-12. It's the most he's played since Oct. 11, 2010 — as span of 41 games. He partnered with Steve Montador, as Coach Joel Quenneville wanted to give Scott an audition for … well, who knows?
Scott took a regular shift on defense for the first time that I can remember since he arrived in Chicago. The verdict? He isn't very good. I'm not sure we needed eleven minutes to come to that conclusion. Despite being badly outmaneuvered by Shattenkirk to set up the first goal, however, I can hardly pin this loss on him.
Of course not, even through they were both a minus-1 in the Blackhawks' 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues. It was their third straight loss and a game many had circled after that 6-2 drubbing by the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
It was a loss that came after (another) set of line swapping for Joel Quenneville.
It was a loss that dropped the Blackhawks' power play to No. 30 in the NHL.
To repeat: The Chicago Blackhawks, owners of the fourth-best power play in hockey last season (23.1 percent) have dropped below the castrated folly that is the Columbus Blue Jackets' power play, ranking last at 8.8 percent (5 for 57).
Scotty Bowman has said the Blackhawks were "dodging bullets" for a month while picking up some points they hadn't earned.
Suddenly, Neo from "The Matrix" is getting clipped by Agent Smith.
They were 0-for-4 against the Blues last night, leading Captain Jonathan Toews to say this, via the Chicago Tribune:
"Our problem is we're making the number out to be a big deal," Toews said. "We want to win games and we want to be good on our power play. Right now, who cares about the stat? We know we have to be better. We have to keep working at it."
Patrick Kane (4:03), Patrick Sharp (3:58) and Toews (3:48) are the Blackhawks' ice-time leaders on the power play. They each have three points, which obviously needs to be better.
But the real concern lies beyond the big three: Marian Hossa, No. 4 in PPTOI for forwards, has one assist; Andrew Brunette, No. 5 in PPTOI for forwards, has two assists; Dave Bolland has a goal and an assist. Defenseman Nick Leddy, ostensibly the team's puck-moving replacement for Brian Campbell, has the third highest PPTOI for Chicago defensemen and has yet to produce a point.
(Ah, yes, Brian Campbell. His power-play production was never as high as it should have been for the Blackhawks, generating 12 points in his last season before being traded to the Florida Panthers. But having him as a second unit blue-liner certainly made that group more dangerous. Barry Melrose is probably overplaying the significance of his departure, but it's still a hole.)
So what ails the power play besides a lack of production from anyone besides the big three? Duncan Keith told ESPN Chicago that it's a case of the fancy pants:
"We tried a lot of different things," Duncan Keith said. "We need to keep it simple. We're trying to make fancy plays. We're all guilty of it. I'm guilty of it."
You knew we'd get to it. The power play. Q, you have to stop proving your genius by having a forward back there. It doesn't work, and it provides too easy a clear. Two d-men on the point would at least have two players to keep pucks in, if nothing else. That's more time in the zone, and more time in the zone will eventually lead the talent to break through. And tell your players that every time they try the back door, they have to wear Scott's jock on their face for five minutes right after practice. The league is kind of on to it by now. They have TVs too.
Fels also wrote about the Blackhawks' "rearranging the deck chairs" for NBC Chicago, as Quenneville shuffled up his lines:
The changing of the top line is an admission that Toews wasn't working with the slow feet of Andrew Brunette and the scattered brain of Viktor Stalberg. While Tazer's numbers aren't glittering like Kane's and Hossa's, they're certainly not bad. Secondly, Toews and Brunette were really making things work when they got to working behind the net. The line produced three goals in two games for Stalberg, and then another one for Toews the following game. It produced a plethora, buffet, and myriad chances for Stalberg against Tampa. It essentially had one bad night. Yes, Brunette is slow but there are ways to get around that. And he was always slow.
Compounding this is the breaking up of Bolland and Frolik, who despite recent struggles (which can be just as much attributed to the creaking and belching defense behind them) had formed quite the checking line axis of destruction. Maybe they think Fro's offensive game needs a jump start, and he can be the playmaker that Sharp needs to score. We'll just have to see. It leaves a wonky checking line with Brunette's feet and Olesz's.....well, general incompetence.
By the third period, the lines were shuffled again, with Toews and Sharp auditioning a few wingers.
Again, this is a stretch where the Blackhawks have one point in three games. If you want panic, go to Columbus, where the Hawks are heading this Thursday. But like Bowman said last month: This team has been dodging bullets. The Carcillo/Kane/Hossa line carried them for a few games. They hung on in a few one-goal victories.
Ken Hitchcock coached one game and St. Louis turned into a special teams success with strong goaltending. These things can shift on a dime. But there are some systemic problems here that are starting to come to the forefront.