During the regular season, the Chicago Blackhawks had one of the league’s best power plays in 2014. They started off slowly on the penalty kill, but they rebounded nicely in that department as the campaign wore on.
Once the playoffs started, the Blackhawks were able to largely continue their dominance on special teams. The St. Louis Blues struggled in a huge way to score power play goals against the Hawks, scoring twice in 29 opportunities on the man-advantage as the Hawks won the series in six games. The Blackhawks weren’t much better on the power play, but their 3-for-20 performance was just good enough as their even strength skill carried the day.
In the second round of the postseason against the Minnesota Wild, the same pattern held true. The Wild only scored twice on the power play in 17 attempts, while the Hawks managed just three goals in 13 chances. Once again though, even strength play (and goaltending by Corey Crawford) helped the Hawks into the Conference Final for the second consecutive season.
After their Game 1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, things have completely fallen apart for the Blackhawks on special teams. Over the past three games, the Kings have scored five power play goals in just 10 chances against the vaunted Hawks’ penalty killing unit, and after a power play tally in Game 2, the Hawks have since failed to score on their last nine power play opportunities.
When you look at the home and road splits in those categories, things become even more dire. The Blackhawks have had a solid power play unit at home this postseason, scoring seven times in 22 chances at the United Center, but away from their home rink they’re completely abysmal, scoring just once in 24 chances.
As for the penalty killing unit, things are similarly structured. The Hawks have killed 22-of-25 penalties on home ice, while surrendering six power play goals in 33 chances on the road.
Those numbers, while not the sole explanation for the Blackhawks’ three straight defeats at the hands of the Kings, do illustrate the difficulty that they could have in trying to repeat their 3-1 series comeback against the Detroit Red Wings last season. By the time the Red Wings had grabbed a 3-1 lead, the Blackhawks had already killed off 31-of-32 power plays that they had faced, and while their power play was struggling, they still had the edge in even strength play for the most part in the postseason.
This time around, the Kings are doing a much better job in the special teams department against the Hawks. Whether that’s because players like Michal Handzus and Marcus Kruger aren’t working their usual magic or because the Kings simply have been executing their offensive strategy flawlessly, the Blackhawks aren’t in the advantageous position this time around of having a penalty killing unit that will cover for their mistakes.