Hawks Insider

What's wrong with Hawks' power play and how to fix it

/ by Charlie Roumeliotis
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Hawks Insider
Chicago Blackhawks

When you start the season with one win in 12 games, there aren't going to be many bright spots. The Blackhawks really only had one during that stretch and that's the power play.

"Going through training camp and the beginning of the season, we were just so confident, so comfortable on the power play," Patrick Kane said on Sunday. "If you asked me where I thought we would finish, I would say Top 5 for sure."

It felt like things were trending in that direction from Day 1. 

In their first 10 games, the Blackhawks went 10-for-38 on the power play for a success rate of 26.3 percent, which ranked No. 6 over that span. They generated the most scoring chances (71) of any team and also had, by far, the league's best expected Goals For at 10.01, according to Natural Stat Trick.

In the 12 games since then, no team has had a worse power-play percentage than the Blackhawks at 3.3. They've done a complete 180 with just one goal in their last 30 opportunities.

To help identify what exactly is going wrong, I reached out to our friends at Sportlogiq and there were several significant discrepancies from the hot 10-game span at the start of the season and the recent 12-game drought.

Here's a look at the chart:

Blackhawks power play

As you can see, the Blackhawks are having no problem entering the zone or sustaining offensive zone possession time. In fact, both of those numbers have improved over time.

The biggest drop-off is the number of shots, where they're coming from, and offensive zone faceoff win rate.

 

On a per-2-minute basis, the Blackhawks went from fourth to 26th in shots on goal, third to 25th in inner slot shots and 11th to 26th in faceoff win percentage. They're also completing fewer passes to the slot, which might explain why they aren't getting off as many shots from the high-danger areas.

Kane pointed out after Sunday's 2-0 loss to San Jose that it's no coincidence the power-play success dipped after the injury to Tyler Johnson, who's been out since Oct. 29. The bumper role is an essential part of the engine and Johnson, who's a right-handed shot, thrived in that spot early on.

"Tyler Johnson went down there and all of a sudden you got a different look," Kane said. "He was really good in the slot."

Don't underestimate the importance of having a player in the bumper role that's a right-handed shot and can retrieve pucks.

Last season, the Blackhawks had the fourth-ranked power-play percentage (35.6) through their first 14 games when Andrew Shaw was in the bumper role. When he was sidelined with a concussion on Feb. 9, the Blackhawks had the 25th-ranked power-play (16.9 percent) the rest of the season.

Interim head coach Derek King sees that the Blackhawks are "fighting it" on the power play, but he's not too worried about it just yet.

"I really like when we don't get scored on, that's for sure," a smiling King said, referencing the fact Chicago has more shorthanded goals against (2) than power-play goals (1) since he took over. "A little concerning, but talking to them they seem comfortable. They'll get through it. They've been around enough and saw some power plays that don't work all the time, and then they get out of it and all of a sudden it starts to click. I've got to be patient with it and let them figure it out."

With Johnson out, the Blackhawks have tried several different options in the bumper role. First it was Ryan Carpenter, then it was Kirby Dach, now it's Brandon Hagel, who has a left-handed shot. They're trying to find the right combination as they look to break out of this slump without Johnson.

"It's one of those stretches where we had chances before and we didn't score and then all of a sudden you get one, two power plays in a game and you kind of get out of rhythm," Kane said. "And then you don't your job when it comes up and then all of a sudden you're in the situation where you're switching units and making some different calls.

"Hopefully we can get it going again and get that confidence like we had at the beginning of the season because it was fun to play like that. You had possession, you had options and we were moving it around pretty well."

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