For the past few seasons, one of the biggest areas of weakness for the Chicago Blackhawks has been their power play production. Despite having stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at their disposal, the Hawks ranked 19th in the league last season, only converting 25 times out of 151 chances for a 16.6 percent success rate.
As you know, the Hawks overcame that lack of power play ability and ended up winning the Stanley Cup (against a Boston Bruins team that was even worse on the PP, converting only 14.8 percent of the time), but despite the positive overall outcome to the season, the Hawks still can't be satisfied with those numbers.
So far during the preseason, however, the drought has continued. The Hawks have had 12 opportunities on the power play and have failed to convert on any of them. While it would be easy to place the blame on not having their full lineup in place (Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have not played yet, and Duncan Keith did not play Thursday night), the fact remains that Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff are not satisfied with the results.
"They had a lot of pieces missing, too," he said of the Penguins' penalty killing unit. "Our power play had two A-plus looks, Kaner had two great chances. But no production. Can't be happy with it. We score 5-on-5 by shooting the puck. Why can't we shoot the puck 5-on-4?"
That is indeed the million dollar question, but shooting the puck isn't necessarily all the Hawks need to do on the power play in order to succeed.
They need a variety of guys doing a variety of things tactically in order to score. Yes, guys like Kane and Patrick Sharp need to be shooting the puck more often than they do, but they also need a power play quarterback at the blue line to move the puck quickly around the ice, and Sharp, who was primarily in that role last night with Keith out of the lineup, simply couldn't get that done.
There is one potential solution to that issue in the pipeline, as defenseman Adam Clendening looked positively excellent in that role during a few of the Hawks' man-advantage situations last night. He seemed to always know the correct thing to do with the puck, playing catch at the point to get the Penguins moving in their defensive formation and also occasionally driving into the zone to draw defenders away from the Hawks' shooters.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, they don't exactly have room to carry Clendening on the roster at this point, with Michal Rozsival, Sheldon Brookbank, and Nick Leddy all competing for spots on their third defensive pairing. That likely means that the Hawks will have to look in another direction for a puck mover at the top of their formation.
That job would likely fall upon the shoulders of Leddy, who has shown flashes of ability in that area but has not been able to prove beyond a doubt that he can handle the responsibility. As a result, he has been relegated largely to second unit duty during the Hawks' power plays, but he'll need to step up his game if the team is going to succeed more often in that area.
The other thing that the Hawks have to do in order to be successful in these situations is to get traffic in front of the net. Yes, Quenneville talks about getting bodies and pucks to the net so often that it seems like a cliche at this point, but the reality is that he is correct, and the Hawks can't seem to win those netfront battles often enough to succeed.
That's where bigger players like Bryan Bickell and Jimmy Hayes are going to have to step up their games. When Dustin Byfuglien hit his stride with the 2010 Hawks, it was because he was able to not only use his size to gain an edge in other areas of the ice, but because he provided an effective screen against goaltenders in power play situations. The results spoke for themselves, as the Hawks would consistently convert on those chances, and Hayes and Bickell will need to try to
improve their games in order to ascend to that role.
Obviously, the Hawks have proven that they can win a championship without a good power play in tow, but over the long run, can they really sustain enough even-strength scoring, as well as enough defense both at even strength and on the penalty kill, to compensate for their lack of goals on the PP? The answer to that is probably no, so as the preseason wears on, look for Quenneville to try just about every formation he can think of in order to jumpstart a group that has been stymied at every turn so far this preseason.