After Rough Night, Could Blackhawks’ Power Play Use a Few Tweaks?

Hawks went 0-for-5 in loss vs. Colorado, are 2-of-17 overall in last five games

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When the Chicago Blackhawks fell to the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Tuesday night, many of the fans and players viewed the defeat as a missed opportunity. The Hawks had gotten five power plays against the Avalanche, who came into the game ranked 17th in the league on the penalty kill, and couldn’t convert on any of them.

Four of those power plays came in the first 22 minutes of the game, but despite a huge advantage in chances and shots, the Hawks still trailed in the game 2-0. Then, the Hawks got a fifth power play at the end of the second period when they were trying to tie the game, and once again couldn’t convert.

Having converted on two of their previous 17 chances, the Blackhawks aren’t struggling on the power play per se, but they aren’t firing on all cylinders. On their first power play of the evening, Chicago got off to a rollicking start, but after a couple of bad zone entry attempts (one dump and chase, the other a straight beeline into the zone) were both broken up, the Hawks had nothing to show for it.

The second power play just a few minutes later had similar quality opportunities at the beginning, with Andrew Shaw getting to the front of the net and both Duncan Keith (point) and Jonathan Toews (goal line) doing a nice job of passing the puck around the zone. Unfortunately, most of the Blackhawks’ shots ended up hitting Avs’ players, and once again they were held without a goal.

The third power play was arguably the worst, with several guys getting out of position and allowing the Avalanche a great short-handed chance as a result. With Keith and Toews along the boards trying to work a puck loose, Patrick Sharp cut over from the far point position and tried to join in. Unfortunately for him, both Shaw and Patrick Kane were still back by the net, and so the entire middle of the ice was wide open.

The puck found its way to Marc Andre Cliché, and even though Sharp made a nice back-check to stop the rush, it was still a close call caused by an over-aggressive approach.

The Hawks’ fourth power play at the beginning of the second period yielded similar results to the first three, with nice passing not really amounting to anything. The fifth power play saw Shaw once again mixing it up in front of the net and a couple of great shots coming in from the point, but despite the rebounds given up by Semyon Varlamov, the Blackhawks couldn’t capitalize.

With those close calls and occasional lapses in mind, is there anything that the Hawks need to do differently personnel-wise on their power play? One potential place to start could be to swap out Kris Versteeg, who is having a tough time of it lately, with a guy like Marcus Kruger on the second unit. The Hawks were having a tough time winning possession of the puck at times on their power play, and Kruger has been almost as good as Toews this season at winning draws.

You add in his responsible two-way play and soft hands to the mix, and you have a potential center for that group to go along with Brandon Saad (who is taking draws on the second unit) and Marian Hossa.

Another potential change could be to move Nick Leddy to the first unit and shift Sharp to the second group. Leddy has shown a lot of potential with the way he handles the puck on the power play, seemingly always getting the zone entry exactly right and demonstrating a knack for keeping the puck in the zone.

Sharp has seen some success as the point man on the power play, but he has generally seemed to be more comfortable in his career closer to the goal line, so perhaps a change to the second group could change that. If Joel Quenneville were to make that switch, Sharp could either join Kruger and Saad as the forwards, with Hossa moving back to the point, or Sharp could replace Versteeg and have a guy like Niklas Hjalmarsson play the point man role on the power play.

At any rate, the Blackhawks’ power play isn’t broken, but it looks like it could use a tune-up, especially with big games coming up against the Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins. The Ducks will be in town first, having won 18 of their last 19 games, and the Hawks have got to take advantage of any opportunities that they get on the power play. If they have another 0-for-5 day, then it could be a long night in the Windy City for the defending champs.

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