During the regular season, the Blackhawks' power play was a major cause of concern. There's still so much offensive talent on the Hawks yet they were scoring so few goals on the man advantage.
At the time of the NHL pause on March 12 — due to the COVID-19 pandemic — Chicago's power play was at No. 28 in the league out of 31 teams. The Oilers touted the league's best power play, converting on 29.5% of their man advantages.
The Hawks were converting on a putrid 15.2% of their power plays during the regular season.
To be fair, there was some hope right before the pause.
The Blackhawks scored on two of their three power plays in their 6-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on March 11, the night before the pause. Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane each had power play tallies for Chicago in the second period of the contest against the Sharks.
Getting to the postseason now, the team's power play units have a little bit of a different look. Throughout the first week of training camp these are how the Hawks' two units have looked:
*PP1: Kane, Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, Dominik Kubalik, Keith
*PP2: Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Alex Nylander, Adam Boqvist
Chicago head coach Jeremy Colliton changed personnel around on the power play a little bit throughout the season. With the units from camp — which we will likely see against the Oilers in the qualifying round — one noticeable decision Colliton made is moving DeBrincat down to the second unit, he was on the first in their last regular season game.
Kubalik, a rookie forward for the Hawks, was thrown on the top unit, and for good measure. He scored 30 goals before the pause and was named a Calder trophy finalist. Chicago can definitely take advantage of his shot.
Dach, another rookie forward with the Blackhawks, was on the top unit against the Sharks on March 11 and was stationed in front of San Jose's net.
The 19-year-old took the four months during the pause before camp to add muscle to his 6'4 frame. His offensive game has been one of the standouts of camp as well. Dach has the same duty on the new-and-improved Hawks' power play, screening the goalie and trying for a deflection, but now he's harder to move and seems to have worked on his hands too.
"I mean I noticed it right away when he came back when he was skating with us right before training camp. … Looks like he’s skating better, looks like his shot's better," Kane said of Dach on Friday. "He looks like he’s a little bit bigger, like he might have put some weight on. He’s looked good."
Dach knows a good power play can make a big difference for a team in the postseason.
"I think power plays in the playoffs are a huge thing to gain momentum," he said. "As a group of power-play players, we know that the regular season was kind of unacceptable and that we have a lot of growth to do there to help our team win. I think the way we’re moving the puck now and making plays, hopefully it can all come together and be a factor for us against Edmonton."
In addition to Kubalik's sniping ability and Dach's physical upgrade, Duncan Keith has been buzzing around the ice since Day 1 of camp last Monday and has lots of experience quarterbacking a power play. Toews looks like himself and should be able to both help keep the puck in the offensive zone and create plays on the man advantage. Kane, to no one's surprise, has been lighting up training camp.
The second power play unit has some promise as well.
Despite not generating as much offense as he did last year, DeBrincat scored 10 power play goals in the regular season, good for an 18th place tie with four other players, including Steven Stamkos.
Strome also saw a dip in offensive production during the regular season, but a decent amount of that can be chalked up to injury. He and Alex Nylander have been very noticeable playing on a line with Kane in camp. That can lead to confidence for the pair on the power play.
Nylander showed a lot of offensive upside in his first year with the Hawks and it only seems to have improved in watching him at camp. His skill set could definitely help on the Hawks' second unit.
"Nylie's got great speed and a great shot and he can make plays," Strome said of Nylander's game after Monday's practice.
"He's got all the talent in the world. He's a great skater, he’s got all the puck skills, he's got a good shot," Kane said of Alex.
Boqvist got plenty of reps as the power play quarterback during the season. The sky's the limit for the rookie defenseman's offensive potential.
As for Saad, he's still a serviceable, skilled player who's a scoring threat. He probably had the worst puck luck of any of the Hawks this season. He had 33 points before the pause (21 goals, 12 assists) but easily could have had over 50. Look for him to be a motivated point producer on the man advantage.
The bad news for the Hawks is that the Oilers penalty kill was the second best in the league this season behind the San Jose Sharks, killing 84.4% of their penalties. The Blackhawks' units will have to be at their best to convert against them.
Come Aug. 1, when the best-of-five play-in series begins, we'll see if the changes in personnel and the work put in during the pause will be enough to outduel a shorthanded Edmonton.