The Chicago Blackhawks will not be making the playoffs this season, so it might be time to focus on some areas that they need to improve on next year.
Last week, I wrote an article on the Blackhawks’ further chances of making the playoffs, and that they would need to rack up a ton of wins during the remainder of the campaign. That has clearly not happened, so it’s worth examining one of the team’s biggest weak spots from this season: the penalty kill.
While the Blackhawks’ powerplay has been one of the hottest in the league this year, their penalty-killing unit has had drastically different results. The team’s killing percentage is currently 76.4 percent, the fifth-worst in the NHL. This accounts for 32 powerplay goals given up this year against 136 chances.
Now, before we completely discount their penalty killers, it should be noted that the Blackhawks’ PK unit has been significantly improving recently. On April 24, the Chicago Sun Times’ Ben Pope reported that “in the last seven games, they’re a perfect 17-for-17 on the penalty kill, including nine-for-nine in the three-game series last week against the Predators.”
However, this improvement on the special teams seems like it has come far too late this season to try and salvage anything. So while the PK has been much better recently, it has been very poor for the majority of the year. That is something that the team will need to work on if they want to be more successful next season.
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One of the bigger overarching issues affecting the penalty kill is the Blackhawks’ poor defense. Although the team does have defensive depth waiting in the wings, they certainly don’t have any superstar D-men on the ice right now.
This also contributes to the number of shots that find the Chicago net. The team currently averages the third-most shots against per game at 33.1. The defense will have to find a way to stop shots from getting to the crease in order to be successful next year.
Another area that is not often looked at that could help with the PK unit is faceoffs. While Jonathan Toews is famously one of the best faceoff guys in the NHL, he hasn’t played all year, and the team has clearly felt his loss in that department.
The ‘Hawks have a faceoff win percentage of 46.7 percent, the fourth-worst in the league. Since every opposing powerplay begins in the Blackhawks’ offensive zone, winning that initial faceoff and quickly getting the puck out can go a long way towards a successful penalty kill.
Another issue that has plagued Chicago consistently this year is discipline. While you can’t rely on staying out of the box to be your penalty kill, there’s no reason to give opposing teams a ton of chances. I couldn’t even count the number of times this season that I’ve seen this team take a bad penalty in the offensive zone, which is extremely frustrating. That has to change moving forward.
I’m not saying that the team can’t turn things around next season. They have a lot of young talent waiting for their chance, and they could add even more with the 2021 NHL Draft coming up in a few months. However, if they want to find their way back into the playoffs next year, shoring up their penalty-killing unit will go a long way towards doing so.