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News » It's learn, baby, learn

It's learn, baby, learn

It's learn, baby, learn
See Patrick Kane get a little uppity because someone checked him or elbowed him in the throat. Or smacked him in the head. See the Blackhawks learn how to go through their first little slump. See other teams testing the Hawks, hitting them in the mouth and into the boards to let them know that they're not kings yet.

Truth is, the Hawks aren't even grown up yet. We're still in the early learning stages. They are the one bit of fresh air in Chicago sports now, what with the Bulls collapsing and Lovie Smith trying to figure out whom he can blame for his Bears.

The Hawks have sold out every home game this season, including Sunday night, when they beat the Nashville Predators 3-1 at the United Center. It was a great learning moment for them as they had lost four of their last six games.

That's one thing starting to stand out about the Hawks: Everything is a learning moment.

''People say, 'What is it like with no adversity?''' coach Joel Quenneville said. ''Don't worry. It's going to be here.''

The Hawks are a story of refreshment and rebirth. How wonderful that the fans were just waiting to come back. But is it OK yet to point out a few things about the Hawks, a few shortcomings?

You won't feel that I just insulted your perfect little 6-year old?

When the Detroit Red Wings beat the Hawks twice a couple of weeks ago, including the game at Wrigley Field, they put down the new road map in how to beat the Hawks. And it sent out word around the league that the new game plan against this little, young, speedy team is to catch these guys, smash them and let them know that everything isn't going to be a free skate to the net.

It worked.

It's the same thing the Detroit Pistons did to the Bulls with a young Michael Jordan so many years ago B.D., before dynasty. They took the Bulls seriously enough to give them a little introduction to the big time. The Bulls learned from it. The Hawks will learn from it, too, and I think they'll get to the playoffs.

It's all a test of toughness

But that tough stuff only builds up in the playoffs, the bogging down. And not only are the Hawks a little too small for that, but also they have few players with meaningful playoff experience to know about it.

I asked Quenneville if teams are challenging the Hawks physically.

''You could argue that,'' he said. ''We responded in kind tonight. We were physically challenging them. I don't think we're going to be deterred from going into any area.''

Quenneville said it is about sticking together and standing up for each other.

They'll learn. But it would be nice, too, if general manager Dale Tallon would pick up a large, experienced forward by the

March 4 trade deadline.

Quenneville has done a fantastic job since becoming the coach after the Hawks dumped Denis Savard about 15 minutes into the season.

It wasn't the classiest way to fire a guy, but Savard still was learning on the job, too. Quenneville has been an experienced teacher, adding so much more order to the Hawks' play.

You cannot be critical of players for being too young, too inexperienced. But they're learning how to deal with teams testing their toughness. They're learning how to deal with losing streaks. And they have no idea about what it takes in a second-half rush for the playoffs.

From here, everything is virgin territory. The Hawks are speedy, fluid and organized now, which will take them places. But after the Hawks broke the franchise record with nine straight wins, the Red Wings changed things, and that should have woke up this city, too, to the tough road this team is about to face.

They were such a plodding, slow team just a few years ago that it can be hard to catch your breath watching them score six goals in a game, or nine as they did three weeks ago.

The Red Wings shut them out in Detroit. And in the two games before Sunday, the Hawks combined for two goals, looking sluggish.

Saturday at Nashville, they didn't seem to want to go down the middle of the ice, in front of the net, where things can get rough. Instead, they settled on hanging around the perimeter.

That's not going to work. They'll learn.

Thank goodness they're back

Detroit did the Hawks a big favor, but the Hawks earned that favor, too, by sneaking up on the Red Wings in the standings.

It's up to Tallon now to bring in some immediate help that won't hurt the team in the future. That means finding size and experience without trading away these young guys.

Goodbye, Nikolai Khabibulin? It's a little risky to trade him because he's having a great year in net -- including Sunday night -- as he has been prone to do in the final year of his contracts. But he won't be back next year anyway, and Cristobal Huet has been good, too.

This thing is all going the right way, finally. It's such a relief for this town to have the Hawks back, especially after where they've been and where the other teams are now.

But it's going to take a little more time. Every experience helps, even the painful ones to little Kane's fresh face.

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: January 12, 2009


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