Can Blackhawks' Power Play Solve the Blues' Defense?

Hawks' power play has scored just five times in their last 51 opportunities

If there has been one constant theme for the Chicago Blackhawks as of late, it’s been found in their inability to take advantage of power play opportunities.

Over their last 16 games, the Blackhawks have scored five power play goals in 51 chances, with two of those goals coming against the St. Louis Blues in the first four games of their first round playoff series. That mark of 9.8% is significantly lower than the 19.5% success rate the team had during the regular season, and while it hasn’t exactly killed them during their current series, it certainly hasn’t helped matters either as the team has struggled to keep up offensively with their rivals from Missouri.

The zone entry for the Blackhawks has been a bit lackluster, to say the least, with players attempting to dump and chase the puck only to see the speedy Blues defenders grab it and fire it back down the ice. Carrying the puck into the zone has worked better, but the Blues have been doing a good job against guys like Patrick Kane and Nick Leddy when they bring the puck in, pinning them against the boards and forcing them to either dump it in behind the net or push a pass back out to the point.

Wednesday’s Game 4 provided a few examples of the challenges the Hawks have been facing. On their first power play of the game, the Hawks could only manage one shot on goal in a full two minutes of man-advantage time, with Michal Rozsival getting the lone shot on net from out near the point. Patrick Sharp had two shots blocked during the two minutes, but not being able to get the puck around the zone effectively because of the Blues’ aggressive style of defense really hindered the Hawks.

The game also showed the recipe for success for Chicago, which has remained a constant throughout this season: get traffic to the front of the net, and good things will happen. After Steve Ott won a face-off against Jonathan Toews, the Hawks managed to regain possession of the puck, with Kane skating it along the boards. Both Toews and Andrew Shaw immediately drove to the front of the net, with Shaw getting inside positioning on his defender. Toews’ shot ended up bouncing off of Shaw’s skate, but amid all of the confusion with Blues defenders collapsing in on the crease area, Shaw knocked a backhanded shot out of midair and into the net to give the Hawks the lead.

Shaw has been making that kind of play all season long, and the Hawks really thrive when they’re able to force the issue and make defenses commit mistakes. Slinging the puck along the exterior areas of the offensive zone may do well against some teams to get their defense moving and out of shooting lanes, but against a disciplined team like the Blues, that strategy won’t work. The Hawks would be much better off focusing their efforts on getting guys like Kane and Marian Hossa out on the wings, with players like Shaw, Toews, and Bryan Bickell collapsing in toward the net. Using that method, the Blues will be forced to adjust, and all of those moving bodies could make life very difficult for Ryan Miller and company as they try to cope with one of the best offenses in the league.

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