Hawks looking for answers

Calgary Flames Cory Sarich decks Chicago Blackhawks Bryan Bickell in during second period action at...

Calgary Flames Cory Sarich decks Chicago Blackhawks Bryan Bickell in during second period action at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Monday. The Hawks lost 3-1 and paid for it with a 'bag' skate Tuesday as they prepared to meet the Oilers Wednesday night. (Darren Makowichuk, QMI Agency)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:33 AM ET

EDMONTON - They were not only blessed with talent, but also took pride in their ability to outwork the opposition.

It’s what won the Chicago Blackhawks the Stanley Cup last season.

This season, the talent is still there but the work ethic has been called into question — as evidenced by the club’s struggles.

That’s why head coach Joel Quenneville put his team through a tough conditioning practice on Tuesday at Rexall Place, a day before facing the Edmonton Oilers.

“I think with our inconsistency this year, there could be something to be said about the battle level not being in place every night,” said Quenneville. “I think you get some nights where it’s there, and then cases like (Monday) night, when it wasn’t.

“(Monday) was our biggest game of the year to that point and that was the disappointing part ... we didn’t handle it the way we would have liked to.”

Chicago limped into Edmonton off a listless 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday. The loss dropped the Blackhawks further out of a playoff spot, jeopardizing their chances to defend the Cup.

“I think the urgency has to come out right now,” Quenneville said. “I think we’re in a situation where we have to be disappointed at where we’re at — but we created it.

“Paying more attention to how we compete and how we battle can help our overall game.

“Every game from now on is going to be gigantic. We have 29 games left and every one of them is going to be very meaningful.”

After winning the Stanley Cup last season, the Blackhawks were forced to unload a number of key members of the supporting cast, due to salary cap issues.

The team has been unable to replace the grit and character of departed players like Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, John Madden, Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg and Colin Fraser.

“That’s definitely an excuse a lot of us could use, but that’s not the reason we’re going through this,” said winger Patrick Kane.

“To be honest, we just haven’t been playing well enough. I think we can improve on our intensity, grittiness and compete level, but to say that we don’t have the guys in here that are capable of doing it would be wrong.”

The Blackhawks head into Edmonton having lost four of their last five games. Prior to that, they won five of six.

“There is no excuse for us not being able to play our best and giving ourselves our best chance to win,” said captain Jonathan Toews.

“We just have to come out and play hard, and even if things aren’t going our way and we’re not having our best game, we still have to have that work ethic and that physical play to fall back on in those situations.

“It’s been a tough year, but we need to find that motivation when things get tough.

“You have to dig deep and remind yourself why you come to the rink every day. There is no excuse; we’re professionals, we’re adults and we’re going to hold each other accountable.

“We can’t have that inconsistency any more, there is no excuse for it.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/DerekVanDiest


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