The Chicago Blackhawks have won 13 playoff games this year, and came back from a 3-1 deficit in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins in a thrilling triple overtime slugfest to win 4-3.
Even with that kind of positive mojo, there is still something off about the Hawks: their power play.
Out of the 16 teams that made the playoffs this season, the Blackhawks have the 12th best success rating, at only 13% conversion on the man-advantage. Only one of the teams that trails them, the New York Rangers, even made it to the second round of the postseason. The Bruins, for the record, have a 16.7% success rate, which still isn’t good but they did draw first blood on special teams in Game 1 with a power play tally.
Those numbers indicate that the Hawks’ power play struggles on Wednesday night were no fluke. They went 0-for-3 on the man-advantage, which included a stretch of 1:17 of 5-on-3 time. Making matters worse, during that time they had two more skaters on the ice, the Blackhawks managed ZERO shots on net in a display of offensive ineptitude that made the heads of Hawks fans spin.
So what exactly is wrong with the Blackhawks’ power play then? Well, for starters, the team simply tries to make their power play sets too complicated. They sling the puck around the ice, moving from point to face-off dot and back, and they are always seemingly looking for the perfect shot. The problem, of course, is that you will never get a perfect shot on the power play against a quality penalty killing team like Boston, so you have to hope for the kind of “greasy goals” that head coach Joel Quenneville and company constantly talk about in their daily cliché-fests.
In order to get “greasy goals” though, the Hawks have to get netfront pressure on goaltender Tuukka Rask, and that’s another strategy they didn’t employ, at least with the man-advantage. Weirdly enough, the Hawks did a very nice job in the game’s final five periods (it’s still weird to type that) of getting traffic in front of the goal, but they were only able to do it in even strength situations.
Guys like Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw do a great job of getting to that area of the ice, and the results speak for themselves, as Bickell nearly scored a goal (that was stolen by Patrick Kane) in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals by screening Jonathan Quick, and Shaw actually scored the game winning goal in Wednesday’s tilt when a shot from the point deflected off his leg after hitting Dave Bolland’s stick.
To that effect, there is another thing the Hawks are doing wrong on the power play: they aren’t playing Bickell enough. He had a grand total of 13 seconds of power play time in Game 1, and the Hawks’ lack of pressure on Rask can be directly tied into that fact.
In hockey, there is often a distinction made that you simplify your game on the road, and generally try to gussy it up at home. The Blackhawks are a team that plays a simple puck possession game at even strength (a look at the Corsi numbers from Game 1 shows how thoroughly dominant that strategy was for them), but tries to get too fancy on the power play.
Simplification, putting out players like Bickell to execute a more effective strategy, and taking available shots are the answers to what ails the Blackhawks, but it will be interesting to see if Quenneville and company make the necessary adjustments as this series moves on.