Blackhawks

How a systematic change could serve as turning point for Blackhawks

How a systematic change could serve as turning point for Blackhawks

When Jeremy Colliton took over as head coach on Nov. 6, 2018, he implemented a man-on-man system in the defensive zone that took some time getting used to for the core players who had played zone coverage under Joel Quenneville for 10-plus years. 

What Colliton didn’t mess with too much is how the Blackhawks generated offense. He allowed his players to play a run-and-gun-type game and it was high risk, high reward. After all, the Blackhawks were among the league leaders in scoring chances generated off the rush, but they also gave up the most.

Colliton knew that wasn’t a great formula for long-term success, so the Blackhawks became more of a dump-and-chase team this season to eliminate neutral zone turnovers and odd-man rushes against. They also altered the way they transitioned out of their own end.

The problem? The offense dried up significantly.

After a brutal four-game road trip in which they were outshot by 65 and averaged only 26.2 shots per game, Colliton was forced to make a systematic change going into Thursday's game against the Vancouver Canucks and gave his players more freedom to create offense similar to the way they did last season. And it could be the turning point of the 2019-20 season. 

“We made a conscious effort to be a bit looser when the puck turned over, so we could create more out of D zone in transition and I think it's helped,” Colliton said following Sunday’s 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. “There's been a lot more plays available for us. Probably closer to how it looked last year, as far as our ability to make plays out of D-zone and through the neutral zone, and probably fits our top guys — and you can see, they're coming to life. It's good to see. Doesn't mean that the defensive side won't be a continued emphasis, because you've got to keep the puck out of your net to win, and when you get up like we did, would've loved to control the game.”

The results? The Blackhawks have scored 12 goals in their last three games and are 2-0-1 over that span.

“We’re trying to build some momentum here doing a lot of new things and new systems," Dylan Strome said on WGN Radio's postgame show after a 5-1 win over Vancouver. "It takes a little bit of getting used to. We kind of went back to our old system a little bit from last year, so [we felt] a lot more comfortable.”

Not only has the switch jumpstarted the offense, but the Blackhawks have seen improvement in their defensive numbers and it likely stems from the fact they aren’t spending as much time in their own zone.

Before the change on Thursday, the Blackhawks ranked 18th in scoring chances for (24.7), 18th in high-danger chances for (10.0), 30th in scoring chances against (29.2) and 30th in high-danger chances against (13.0) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Since the change, the Blackhawks rank seventh in scoring chances for (28.8), 15th in high-danger chances for (10.9), 22nd in scoring chances against (28.3) and 20th in high-danger chances against (11.8) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. 

It's still not perfect, but we're finally starting to see what the Blackhawks are capable of as a group. They're playing looser and with more confidence, they're attacking and not chasing — they've scored the first two goals in each of the past three games — and they're racking up points because of it. 

The fundamental change doesn’t mean the Blackhawks are going to forget about the defense-first mentality they’re trying to establish. But Colliton knows he has to let his offensive players do what they do best and play to their strengths — it's no coincidence that Patrick Kane has caught fire in the last three games.

Now they’re trying to find a common ground where the team’s style of play can lead to sustained success, both on offense and defense.

“It's a happy medium,” Colliton said. “It was a big emphasis to keep the puck out of our net and still is. But at the same time, we've got to score more than them in order to win. We're trying to find the right balance and I think ultimately we need to win games to stay in the race, to allow ourselves to play important games. That's what we've done in the last week, we've got some points.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

mike_gapski_usa_today.jpg
USA Today

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

For 33 years, Mike Gapski has been the glue of the Blackhawks' support staff. He's the longest-tenured head athletic trainer in the NHL, landing the job in 1987 shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

It's been a dream come true for Gapski to work in his hometown all these years, and on Thursday he is set to be involved in his 2,500th regular season game with the Blackhawks.

Current and former players took the time to congratulate and give thanks to Gapski, and share what he's meant to the Blackhawks:

Kirby Dach:

"It's crazy, you have the same guys in junior, but it's a little bit different level here. These guys take care of us, it's unbelievable the job they do. It's a tremendous accomplishment for Gapper. Couldn't be happier for him. I've only known him for a little bit and he's a really nice guy and helps everybody out and is very kind and caring. And that's what you need in a trainer, somebody who's going to have your best interest at heart. It's good for our group and obviously he's been through a lot with some of the older guys in here. I'm sure it'll be a fun celebration for those guys and for our group as well."

Alex DeBrincat:

"He's great. He's always helping. You try to stay out of the training room, but it's always nice to go in there and talk with those guys. Gapper specifically is a great guy to have around, always fun and lighthearted around there. He obviously knows his stuff, he's been in the league a long time, he's seen a lot of injuries. He's pretty quick to help us out and know what we need to get better."

Steve Konroyd:

"Michael Gapski, congratulations on 2,500 games. You're one of the first guys I ever met when I got traded to the Chicago Blackhawks way back in 1988. You're knowledgeable, you're professional and above all else you're a great guy. I was very proud to have you as a trainer and I think the Blackhawks are very lucky to have you over all these years."

Jamal Mayers:

"Just want to say congratulations to Mike Gapski on 2,500 games. Wow. That's a lot of games, Gapper, congratulations. I know all the players that have ever had you are thankful to have you around. You're a professional, you do things the right way, you really care about the players, it comes across every single day. And thanks for keeping me together when I was 37 and 38 at the end of my career."

Eddie Olczyk:

"Hey Frank, congratulations — 2,500 games standing behind the bench for our Chicago Blackhawks. A tremendous honor, congratulations to you and your family. One thing I love about you, Frank, is you're the same guy today as you were back in the late '90s when we were working together when I was still a player. So congratulations and here's to another 2,500 more."

Patrick Sharp:

"Gapper, Gappity, Frank, Mike Gapski, thank you so much for all the years that you've put in to the Chicago Blackhawks training staff. Countless players have come through the organization, nobody's got a bad thing to say about you. 2,500 games, that's no joke. How about we do another 2,500? Congratulations on all your success. I came to Chicago in 2005 as a young man, spent my whole adult life with having you taking care of me at the rink, so thank you for everything over the years. All the best to you and your family, Frank."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Kris Versteeg recently retired and now the Blackhawks are honoring him with the team’s “One More Shift.”

Versteeg began the season with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, but retired in November after playing six games for the IceHogs this season.

The 33-year-old wrote an emotional letter to the Blackhawks organization after requesting his contract with Rockford be terminated.

Versteeg will be honored before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He will join the team on the ice for the national anthem and highlights of his career will be featured in the United Center.

Versteeg won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, in 2010 and 2015. He is part of the Blackhawks celebrating the 10-year anniversary of that 2010 Cup win. Brian Campbell was given the same treatment on Nov. 21.

The first 10,000 fans into the UC can get replicas of the 2010 ring.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.