The Blackhawks' defense allowing the opposition too many shots and quality chances has long been an issue. During the 2019-20 regular season, the Hawks allowed a league-high average of 35.1 shots against per game and gave up the second most high-danger chances against (728) in 5-on-5 play.
In his end of the year Zoom conference call with the media on Friday — three days after the Hawks were eliminated from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights — Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton addressed the team's issues with defending and how to fix them.
"Yeah, I think we’re making progress," he said. "We’re certainly not where we’d like to be to be an elite team. You look at Vegas. They’re No. 1 – at least the numbers that we were looking at – since January, they were No. 1 in chances for and chances against, so it’s not as if just because you want to defend hard you’re not going to create anything. That’s part of why they’re an elite team. A lot of it is just commitment to do the right things every time you’re on the ice and understanding that you’re out there for hopefully 35, 40 seconds and you’ve got to be totally focused on your job and beat the guy you’re up against.
"Where we get into trouble, particularly our team and where we’re at now, is when we don’t manage the puck. I think when we have a structure and we’re fresh and you’re able to defend from structure I think we do a pretty good job. I think when we get into trouble is when we start turning the puck over in critical areas, whether that’s in our own end or (when) we’re on the blue lines, those important areas, it’s really tough to get your structure back.
"You put a lot of stress on the team as far as the reaction to get back on the right side and get defensive position, or maybe you’re outnumbered. The next part of it is you end up playing tired. We’ve got to do a better job of getting off, finding a way to advance the puck, get it in and then change one at a time. So that even if we don’t create offense in that particular shift, we’re in a good (position) to defend.
"When we’ve been good, we’ve been able to build one shift at a time, and start to play in the offensive zone and start to tilt the ice and then all of a sudden you end up fresh and you’re playing against tired guys and now they have trouble defending and you’re fresh and you’re able to win 50-50s and win battles.
"I think we’ve been talking about it a lot and we made progress, I think particularly (in) the Edmonton series where we were out-changing them. We were defending when we’re fresh and we were forcing them to defend when they’re not. Then we looked pretty good defensively. But as soon as you start turning pucks over or you overstay your shift, then it becomes hard. We’re going to keep working at that. We’ve shown there’s a path there to be a better defensive team and we’ve got to reach it if we want to be an elite team and go deep into the playoffs."