Earlier this week, I dedicated a post on this blog to how well the Chicago Blackhawks’ penalty killing unit has been playing over the last two months. Their series against the Minnesota Wild was a great example of this dominance, killing off all 17 power plays over the course of five games.
The other half of the Hawks’ special teams, however, didn’t look nearly as good, and that is their power play unit. They did manage to go 1-for-2 on Thursday night in that department, with Patrick Sharp tallying a power play marker in the third period of the game, but they went three straight games in the middle of the series without a man-advantage goal, and they didn’t exactly look great in the process.
The Hawks’ game is predicated on puck possession. Every media member worth their salt has talked extensively about how well the Hawks hold onto the puck, and everything from game tape to advanced statistics measuring Fenwick and other numbers will indicate that. On the power play, they also show that propensity for holding onto the puck for long stretches, and that very well could be the big issue surrounding the team.
Every fan has horror stories about sitting in the United Center and being placed next to a beer-swilling bozo who yells “SHOOT” every time a player in a red sweater touches the puck, but despite the inane attitude of these yahoos towards the game, they actually have a valid point amidst all of the meatheadedness. The Hawks tend to stick to the perimeter too much on their power plays, and that has been the case for several years now.
When they have had success on the power play, it has been when they have gotten bodies in front of the net to collect rebounds. As fans saw on Thursday, the Hawks have guys with some great hands around the net, as Marian Hossa potted a goal with two Wild sticks slapping him across the wrists. Guys like Jonathan Toews and Andrew Shaw have also shown an ability to fight through traffic and get off good shots in front of the net, so they will be looked at to increase the pressure on either Antti Niemi or Jimmy Howard, depending on who the Blackhawks play in the second round of the playoffs.
Head coach Joel Quenneville talks constantly about having to get pucks to the net and to get to the dirty areas of the ice in order to score goals, but his power play units don’t seem to take that advice to heart at times. Especially in Game 4 of the series, with the Wild’s goalie Josh Harding feeling the effects of a run-in with Toews, the Hawks seemed content to stick to the area outside of the faceoff circles while on the power play, and only managed one shot with the man-advantage in a situation that called for a ton of rubber to be swung Harding’s way.
If the Hawks continue to stay away from the dirty areas, teams like the Sharks will allow them to swing the puck around the zone at will, but will clog up the middle of the ice with bodies and prevent any long shots from getting through cleanly. The Hawks will need to adjust their tactics to take advantage of deflections and rebounds, because if they don’t, they might as well see if there is an NHL rule about declining penalties.