How Blackhawks' power play can factor into series against Oilers

How Blackhawks' power play can factor into series against Oilers

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. 

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Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Saturday afternoon, after eliminating the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in Game 4 on Friday night, the Blackhawks learned they'll be facing the Vegas Golden Knights and very likely a certain former Hawks goalie in Round One.

Robin Lehner was in net for the Knights in their overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche to help Vegas grab the No. 1 seed in the West for Round One, pitting them against the Blackhawks, who were the No. 12 seed in the qualifying round.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner unveils new pads

Lehner has seen the majority of the starts in net for the Knights at the beginning of the postseason tournament over three-time Stanley Cup champ Marc-Andre Fleury.

The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist was traded from Chicago to Vegas ahead of Feb. 24's trade deadline. He was 16-10-5 as a Hawk during the 2019-20 regular season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage prior to the move.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner's birthday cake is unreal

Following Saturday's game, Lehner was asked about facing the Blackhawks and his former goalie partner Corey Crawford in Round One and if playing with them earlier this season carries an advantage.

"I don't know. All I know is it's going to be fun playing them," Lehner said. "They're a very good hockey team and I have a lot of respect for them, the whole organization... but I think I really like it here (with Vegas), we're a great hockey team."

The 29-year-old netminder got off to a hot start with Vegas ahead of the NHL pause on March 12 going 3-0-0 with 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. 

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Blackhawks to face Robin Lehner, Vegas in Round 1 of Stanley Cup Playoffs

Blackhawks to face Robin Lehner, Vegas in Round 1 of Stanley Cup Playoffs

It's official: The Blackhawks will face Robin Lehner and the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Golden Knights defeated the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 overtime win in Saturday's round-robin finale to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks, who eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in four games on Friday, will serve as the No. 8 seed.

The Blackhawks went 1-1-1 and had a minus-2 goal differential in three games against the Golden Knights this season. Their most recent matchup was on Dec. 11, which resulted in a 5-1 win for the Golden Knights.

You won't find a better puck possession team in the league than the Golden Knights, who generated the most scoring chances and high-danger chances at even strength of any team this season. The Blackhawks will certainly have their work cut out for them.

"It’s a great challenge for us," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I'm happy that we get the opportunity to prepare for them and compete against them. We feel that we’ve been getting better all the time and it’s going to be a great test for us."

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