Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews (19) looks to the scoreboard as Patrick Sharp (10) looks down during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Chicago, Friday, Jan. 6, 2012. The Avalanche won 4-0. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
While it seems a bit harsh to blame the power play for Tuesday's loss when it only had two chances, those two chances demonstrate a return to a system that was hamstringing the Hawks before the All-Star break. In these close games against good teams, the Hawks aren't going to get a bevy of chances to seperate themselves. The margins will be small, and could be the difference between a first or second round exit or a much deeper run.
While I and my colleagues spend a lot of time wailing about third pairing defensemen or fourth line players, who have less of an impact on wins and losses, the special teams are far more vital to the fortunes of the Hawks. And they're both not where they're supposed to be. With the talent the Hawks display on both, there's really no reason that each unit shouldn't be top five in the league. The kill has an easy alibi for its ineptitude. While there may be other problems, it just won't be good until the goaltending improves. We've been over that.
So what was up with the power play? Let's delve into some hockey 101 for those a ilttle less familiar. During Patrick Sharp's injury, the Hawks did away with the ploy of having a forward play the point, or defense on it. This is something we've been calling for all season, because the Hawks don't have a forward who can QB a power play, but they have two D who can in Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy. What QB-ing means is someone to bring the puck out of the Hawks zone, and make the right decisions as to whether to carry the puck in, make the right first pass, or dump the puck in to get in the attacking zone. Once established, it is the QB who is highest in the zone and kind of runs things.
The Hawks used their forwards on the point to be the trigger-men, or the guy who blasts it netward. Both Sharp and Bolland are ok at this, but their not as experienced doing it from there as Brent Seabrook and Steve Montador, who probably have bigger shots anyway. So that's established.
When Sharp was out, Bolland moved to a forward position, and at least with his unit they changed systems. Usually, you'd see the Hawks in an umbrella, which means the forward on the point would float down low in the zone, leaving only one d-man out high, with wingers wide, someone in front of the net, and Toews at the goal line. Basically, the idea behind this was to get Sharp a backdoor pass with everyone else occupying a defender and Sharp being behind them all. But the league caught on to this, and it hasn't worked. It also leaves lanes on both sides open for the kiling team to clear, which they've taken plenty of advantage of as the only d-man out high is usually in the middle, and no team clears the puck down the middle.
During the last month, the Hawks switched to an overload. This means that everyone is on the same side of the attacking zone, with two d-men high, one winger at the goaline, a man in front and another at the half board, or faceoff circle. Where Bolland found success on the power play was floating to the high slot, getting passes from the guy either on the half-wall or the goalline. He could do this because the two d-men high occupied two killers, and he would get behind them but in front of the other two killers who had to deal with the two guys down low. This is something that the Hawks just haven't done a lot of.
The other problem with the umbrella lately is that it eventually ends with four guys below the cirlces, and the one d-man out high. The d-man is open, but all those bodies, the four attackers and three if not all four killers, are in the way of that shot from distance. While you like traffic in front, this presents too much of it. With the two d-men out high, you bring at least one and probably two killers out away from there. It also opens that high slot with the perfect man in the crease and defender only in the way.
The Hawks need their power play to be one of the best around. It does just ok now simply because of the ample talent on it. But it should be devestating. And it's not.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .