Blackhawks

How Blackhawks power play went from dead last to NHL’s hottest

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AP

How Blackhawks power play went from dead last to NHL’s hottest

When Jeremy Colliton took over as head coach of the Blackhawks, one of his top priorities was fixing the power play. In fact, for the first chunk of home games, he would trot his team out 15 minutes early ahead of morning skate to work on it.

It took a while, but the results have finally come. And they're producing at a remarkable rate.

In the first 35 games of the season, the Blackhawks were 12-for-105 on the power play for a conversion rate of 11.4 percent. In the past 12 games, they are 13-for-36 for a success rate of 36.4 percent. No team has a better percentage since Dec. 18 than the Blackhawks, a span of nearly a month. 

"We've been together for awhile, so I think that's kind of the nice part about it," Patrick Kane said following a 2-for-4 effort against the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday. "We know each other's positions. We know where we're going to be when we're in trouble. I think the guys did a really good job of moving the puck around quick tonight. Break-ins are solid and you end up going 2-for-4. It's been a confident part of our game lately."

The Blackhawks have been so hot that they've gone from dead-last in the NHL to middle of the pack in less than a month.

How have they done this? It's a combination of reasons.

"We gained our confidence on there," Dylan Strome said. "We've had this unit now for maybe 10 games or nine games. We're feeling good, obviously. We're getting pucks back, [Jonathan Toews] is doing a great job winning faceoffs. [I] try to do the best I can to screen the goalie. [Erik Gustafsson] is really good up there, a threat to shoot always with a bomb of a shot, but very deceptive where he can pass to [Patrick Kane] or [Alex DeBrincat]. And obviously when you can have a guy like [Kane] on the power play, so deceptive, you think he's going to shoot and then he passes to [DeBrincat] and then [DeBrincat] does what he does and puts it in the net, so we've got a good thing going. Our work ethic is definitely a big reason why we're doing so well."

The Kane to DeBrincat connection has been lethal. They've gotten together for a one-time goal in each of the past four games, and they're giving opposing goalies nightmares. Gustafsson has been a difference-maker running the point. Consistency in the units is always a positive.

The Blackhawks have generated 39 scoring chances on the power play in their last 12 games, which ranks 21st over the stretch that started on Dec. 18, according to naturalstattrick.com. But their shooting percentage on those chances is 25.0, which ranks second. Everything is going in for them.

Having experienced a lengthy drought and now a ridiculous hot streak, the Blackhawks know they have to keep their foot on the gas pedal and continue to build on that success or else it can turn the other way in a hurry, particularly their confidence.

"Yeah, it's been clicking," DeBrincat said. "But it can go away just like that, too. We just got to try to keep it rolling and keep the power play going."

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Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

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USA Today

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks divided practice into two groups on Thursday and Friday. One of them was filled with NHL players. The other was loaded with prospects.

Dylan Sikura found himself in the first group with the prospects, and it's hard not to read into what that could mean about his standing with the team as the coaching staff looks to finalize its 23-man roster over the next two weeks.

Once thought of as a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, Sikura put up strong numbers in the AHL last season but his offensive production hasn't translated to the NHL level.

Part of that is because he was put in favorable situations in college and Rockford, where he played first-line minutes and was the go-to guy on the top power play unit. It was difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago when players like Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are viewed as the heavy lifters on offense.

When the Blackhawks traded Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June for defenseman Olli Maatta, GM Stan Bowman felt he was able to pull the trigger on that trade because he was confident that there were players in-house ready for bigger roles and that could fill Kahun's skates. Bowman singled out Sikura specifically.

“Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura,” Bowman said at the time. “He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik has.”

Bowman is right. When Sikura was on the ice at 5-on-5 last season, the Blackhawks controlled 55.4 percent of the shot attempts and 53.2 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, those numbers dropped to 47.7 and 45.5, respectively. 

But through 38 career games with the Blackhawks, Sikura is still looking for his first career NHL goal and he knows it's a results-oriented business.

“It's obviously something you think about every now and then and it's tough but I thought there was spurts last year where I was really good," Sikura said. "And even though I wasn't scoring I was still playing and put in situations playing with top guys, so I think all that is going to help me in the long run. Coach always says you end up getting rewarded for what you deserve and I think if I continue to work away from the puck and work on that side of the game then the offense will come."

Sikura survived the first wave of cuts, which consisted of six players. But the next round is expected to be bigger and should come this weekend with the IceHogs training camp beginning Sunday.

Whether Sikura is part of that remains to be seen, but with a crowded forward group already and limited spots available, he might have to wait for his chance again mid-season.

“You always got to be ready, if it's going to be here to start the season or down there, you always got to be ready to go,” Sikura said. “You saw last year, I think when you're down there sometimes you don't think you're coming up then next day you get a call, so you always got to be ready and working on your game. It's a little bit of different hockey down there, but you've got to do the little things and I think my game kind of changes down there a little, but to stick up here I've got to do the little things and hopefully it all works out."

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Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

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Detroit Red Wings

Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

After starting training camp with 55 players, the Blackhawks made their first wave of roster cuts on Friday and they weren't very surprising.

Forwards Nathan Noel, Graham Knott, Tyler Sikura, Tim Soderlund, Dylan McLaughlin, Kris Versteeg and defensemen Chad Krys, Jack Ramsey and Jake Ryczek were re-assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Goaltender Alexis Gravel was also returned to his junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Blackhawks training camp roster now sits at 45 players: 26 forwards, 14 defensemen and five goaltenders.

The IceHogs kick off their training camp on Sunday, so expect the Blackhawks to make more roster moves before then. Saturday's preseason game against the Boston Bruins could serve as the final opportunity for some of the bubble players to make an impression before the organization makes their next round of cuts.

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