Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks’ Powerplay Can Be Fixed

By Colin Likas
facebooktwitterreddit

In last night’s Chicago Blackhawks-Florida Panthers game, a long-term issue for the Blackhawks was on full display. Florida committed an obscene eight minor penalties in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 victory, but the host team converted just one time in those eight attempts — on a point shot from Brent Seabrook that bounced and rolled its way through traffic and past Roberto Luongo.

Struggles on the man-advantage are nothing new for the Blackhawks under Joel Quenneville. In a very limited sample size so far this season, the Blackhawks have converted six of 30 attempts (20 percent), tying them for 13th in the league in success rate. Considering the Blackhawks have drawn the third-most penalties in the league thus far (only behind Columbus’ 31 and Arizona’s 32), you’d like to see more than six powerplay goals. On top of that, Chicago is just one of eight teams to allow a shorthanded goal already this season.

Before we talk about the struggles the Blackhawks have faced on the man-advantage and how they might be alleviated, let’s take a look at past regular-season powerplay statistics for the Blackhawks under Coach Q.

2014-15 Blackhawks: 17.6 percent conversion rate (20th in league), seven shorthanded goals allowed

2013-14 Blackhawks: 19.5 percent conversion rate (10th in league), six shorthanded goals allowed

2013 Blackhawks: 16.6 percent conversion rate (19th in league), five shorthanded goals allowed (48 games)

2011-12 Blackhawks: 15.2 percent conversion rate (26th in league), three shorthanded goals allowed

2010-11 Blackhawks: 23.1 percent conversion rate (4th in league), four shorthanded goals allowed

2009-10 Blackhawks: 17.7 percent conversion rate (16th in league), four shorthanded goals allowed

2008-09 Blackhawks: 19.3 percent conversion rate (12th in league), six shorthanded goal allowed

There are some ugly numbers in there, to be sure. It’s interesting to note the Blackhawks’ two best seasons on the powerplay were not Stanley Cup years; the 2010-11 squad lost in the first round to Vancouver (which had the league’s best regular-season powerplay), and the 2013-14 team fell to Los Angeles in the Western Conference finals. So an underperforming powerplay doesn’t necessarily mean a team can’t win it all. It just makes the job much more difficult.

More from Blackhawks News

And with the Blackhawks, that’s really unnecessary. The main reason the Blackhawks’ powerplay gets a lot of flak from fans and analysts has to do with the amount of offensive talent the Blackhawks have possessed under Q. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Martin Havlat and Dustin Byfuglien at forward, as well as Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy on the back (among others at both forward and defense). And this is before you talk about current playmakers like Teuvo Teravainen and Artemi Panarin. How is it possible that this team can’t convert more frequently while up one or two men?

The reasons for this can’t be the same every season, but there are recurring themes in more-recent games. Let’s look at the powerplay lines the Blackhawks started with against the Panthers:

T0ews-Andrew Shaw-Panarin-Kane-Seabrook

Artem Anisimov-Hossa-Teravainen-David RundbladTrevor Daley

Now, Q immediately went to the blender when Florida committed its second penalty. We only got to see one of the two lines before Seabrook scored on this powerplay, but here’s what was iced:

Anisimov-Panarin-Kane-Teravainen-Seabrook

Oct 22, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) reacts after scoring a goal against the Florida Panthers during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from the fact Keith would replace Seabrook on this unit if the former was healthy, what do you notice? No Toews. Now you could say Q did this because Toews is struggling to find the twine, but you don’t take one of the world’s best players off the ice because he’s having a hard time scoring. So what other reason could there be.

Predictability.

Everyone knows what’s going to happen when Toews and Kane come on to the ice together for a powerplay. They’ll have it worked back and forth between them, with one of them going below the circles to try and either stuff it in on the goaltender or throw it into the home-plate area for a one-timer. And unless that entire series of actions happens faster than the opposing team can react to them, it has become ridiculously easy to defend against.

At the same time, the Blackhawks’ powerplay style in recent seasons has typically seen the team move the puck plenty, but not move themselves whatsoever. The players stand still and stick to an “attacking” style that pretty much requires a pinpoint shot from one of the team’s star players. It’s not that it can’t happen, but how is that an effective way to take advantage of having one fewer opponent on the ice? This is also something that leads to shorthanded opportunities for the opponent, as those players just have to read where the Blackhawks are going to send the puck, and then they’re off to the races while the Blackhawks attempt to give chase while starting from a stand-still position.

Furthermore, the Blackhawks’ zone entires on the powerplay are very often a mess and a half. The Blackhawks deviate between chipping and chasing or trying to have one guy enter the zone with the puck while everyone else stands at the blue line to ensure they aren’t offsides. What they often don’t do is try to enter the zone as a unit and offer one another a passing option or two so they don’t have to try to win a board battle with multiple opponents or stickhandle through opposing traffic. Why don’t they do this? I couldn’t tell you.

So what am I suggesting, exactly? First, I think Q and his assistants should get the team practicing some different looks on the powerplay, both in personnel and in attacking style. While the one man-advantage goal last night was merely the result of a faceoff win and a slapper that got through traffic, it was a different look that Florida may not have been ready for. Separate Kane and Toews once in a while (as was done last night). Have Hossa bump up to the top unit. Utilize Teuvo, Panarin, Viktor Tikhonov and Shaw when possible. The powerplay doesn’t have to be a story of two stars in Toews and Kane.

Also, the Blackhawks need to keep their feet moving and get the puck at the net. This may not seem like rocket science, but if you’ve watched Chicago’s powerplay over the last little while, you’ll know those aren’t two traits you frequently see. On top of this, the team really needs to work on its zone entries and not leave up to one player the setup for an offensive attack. Again, the Blackhawks have very capable players who could probably set up an offensive attack while down 100 players to five. So why can’t that be managed when the team is up five players to four, or five players to three?

Essentially, if the Blackhawks go back to powerplay basics and trust all of the personnel they have at their disposal, I think the powerplay can see some improvement moving forward. It may not make the unit the best in the league, but considering the starpower the team possesses, it would at least make the unit serviceable.

Next: Crawford In Spotlight Without Keith

More from Blackhawk Up

facebooktwitterreddit