Blackhawks

How Blackhawks are taking a page out of Capitals book in new-look power play scheme

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USA TODAY

How Blackhawks are taking a page out of Capitals book in new-look power play scheme

The Blackhawks haven't really been known to be a strong power-play team under Joel Quenneville. During their three Stanley Cup runs, they finished 16th (2010), 19th (2013) and 20th (2015) and often relied more on their 5-on-5 and penalty kill success.

But last season was a disaster with the man advantage in many ways, tied for third-worst with a 16.0 percent success rate. Something needed to change over the summer, whether it was schematically or personnel wise.

The Blackhawks showed on Monday that they have done both. And it looked awfully similar to the structure the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals ran that was so successful in the playoffs: a top-heavy first unit that consists of four forwards and one defenseman with a 1-3-1 setup.

Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith made up the first unit. Victor Ejdsell, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Saad, Dylan Sikura and Erik Gustafsson made up the second.

But let's focus on the first unit and the technical changes.

Here's a general idea of what the Blackhawks power play setup looked like last season: 

As you can see, it's very spread out, essentially using the perimeter to create and cycle the puck. The advantage to this particular setup is the ability to have freedom in the offensive zone. The disadvantage is the lack of structure because you're basically just looking for openings. And trying to find that perfect pass or shot is something the Blackhawks did far too often last year.

"I think just not shooting enough, trying to be too cute, looking for that perfect play," Schmaltz said on what went wrong with the power play in 2017-18. "I think if you get that first shot then you retrieve it you can kind of make sure to get those second and third pucks and that's when they really tire out and then that's where those seam plays develop."

A lot of the times, it was Kane or bust. While your best offensive player should certainly have the puck and drive the possession, it's not the best team recipe for success when you're depending so heavily on one player. 

"Any time you have Kaner with the puck he's going to make things happen," said Kunitz, who was a part of several top-ranked power plays with Pittsburgh playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. "But I don't think you can just rely on him to do it for everybody else. There's guys out there with tons of skill and they've shown that's why they're out in those first units to be able to go out there and make those plays, so I think it's something that you have to be a threat, everybody on the ice of making the right play and dictating where the puck can move.

"It doesn't always have to move through one guy. And when you do that it opens up some spaces for everybody else. But it's something that you have to be able to take that initiative to want to score goals, go out and do it and when you make those plays it'll open up the ice for everybody else."

To help do that, assistant coach Kevin Dineen unveiled a new 1-3-1 scheme with the biggest change being Schmaltz setting up shop in the slot, where T.J. Oshie found great success in Washington. It allows Schmaltz to be a hub in the middle of the zone, where he can pass it to four different players while also using his quick release to uncork a snapshot.

How many times did we see this play work for the Capitals last season?

Oshie and Alex Ovechkin finished with six power-play goals last postseason, which led all players. The Capitals as a team ranked seventh in the regular season (22.5 percent) and second in the playoffs, converting on 22 of 75 attempts for a conversation rate of 29.3 percent. Those two were crucial to the success.

Perhaps the thought to put DeBrincat on the left side is that it puts his deceptive shot to good use and, like Ovechkin, keeps penalty killers thinking by not giving him a clear path to tee off a slap shot from the faceoff circle, which could open up something else.

With Schmaltz playing the role of Oshie and DeBrincat playing the role of Ovechkin, that leaves Kane and Toews on the other side to play off each other like Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov (as seen in the GIF above) and allows Keith to play the role of John Carlson at the point. Not bad.

With an emphasis being put more on special teams success, particularly the power play, perhaps the Blackhawks will see more production in all areas if they're successful in the one they struggled in the most last season.

"It's the first day we practiced it, so it's just one day at a time here," Keith said. "I think try to turn the page, just focus on this year and not worry about last year and what happened. A lot of time's power play is about confidence too, 5-on-5, anything, individual players, your confidence is a major factor. It's a new year, let's have fun, move it around and make some plays."

Dave Bolland joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Dave Bolland joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Feisty forward Dave Bolland wore No. 36 for the majority of his Blackhawks tenure from 2006-2013, but there's another number Hawks fans think of when they hear his name: 17. With 59 seconds left in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins in Boston, Bolland scored the 2013 Stanley Cup-winning goal 17 seconds after Bryan Bickell tied it for the 3-2 final score. 

Bolland was drafted by the Blackhawks in the second round (No. 32 overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft.

Agitator, energy provider and goal-scorer were hats "The Rat" wore as a bottom six staple for some very dangerous Blackhawks teams that were allowed to seamlessly roll four lines. 

As seen in several playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks, Bolland had the ability to throw the NHL's top players, like the Sedin twins, off their game. 

The two-time Stanley Cup champ (2010, 2013) finished with 168 points (70 goals, 98 assists) in 332 games with the Hawks before being traded on June 30 to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three draft picks. He played 15 games with the Leafs before he severed a tendon in his left ankle and missed the majority of the 2013-2014 season. Bolland became a free agent and signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Florida Panthers, where he played 78 games in two seasons including his last NHL game on Dec. 12, 2015. 

Appropriately, Bolland received a roaring standing ovation for his "One More Shift" Friday, October 18 prior to the Hawks' 3-2 win over Blue Jackets in conjunction with the organization's 10th anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup championship team. 

Dylan Strome's return comes at opportune time for Blackhawks offense

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USA Today

Dylan Strome's return comes at opportune time for Blackhawks offense

BOSTON — The Blackhawks will be getting a boost on Thursday when they take on the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. 

After missing four games with a concussion, Dylan Strome will return to the lineup and is expected to slot into his normal second-line center role in between Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane. And it comes at an opportune time for the Blackhawks, who have scored just 14 goals over their last seven games.

"You want to be out there, you feel like you're letting the team down," Strome said of his absence. "You're part of this team, so it's definitely nice just to be back with the guys. ... You want to be out there helping the team win and if they're already winning you want to be out there helping them contribute. Obviously I wanted to get out there and it sucks just watching but you gotta take the time to get better and ready to go now."

Strome said it wasn't fun watching the Blackhawks from afar, especially when the team was on the road, and it didn't make things any easier after his team got blown out in three straight games against Central Division opponents. He was also playing his best hockey of the season before he got hurt.

Strome had 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in his past nine games after recording seven points (three goals, four assists) in his previous 14. The Blackhawks are hoping he won't skip a beat.

"I thought the three-week stretch before he got hurt, it seemed like he was taking steps all the time," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Hopefully he can get back to that as quickly as possible. It provides offense of course for us with another center. I think defensively he's been improving. That's important obviously, especially if he's playing with DeBrincat and Kane. If they're able to get out of D zone, if they're able to force a turnover, they're extremely dangerous in those moments. If he can create more of those, it's going to be really good for the team."

The Blackhawks are facing a Bruins team that ranks No. 3 in goals for per game (3.61), No. 1 in goals against average (2.18), No. 2 in power play percentage (30.9) and No. 6 in penalty kill percentage (84.9). The Bruins also have the NHL's leading goal scorer in David Pastrnak (25) and the third-leading point getter in Brad Marchand (44 points).

Oh, and the Bruins haven't lost a game in regulation at home this season (12-0-4). The Blackhawks are in for a big challenge as they look to snap a three-game losing skid and win for only the second time in eight games.

"Obviously they've had a great start, building off their run last season," Colliton said. "Tremendous power play, very aggressive on the forecheck, very active with their D in the offensive zone. They do a lot of things well. It's going to test us. We need to perform well. I think it comes down to, for us, our habits, especially on the road. You need to have a good base, stop and start, manage the puck, find a way to create zone time for yourself, stay out of the box. That allows yourself a chance to win on the road."

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