If you wrote a list of things the Blackhawks needed to address going into the 2019-20 season, the power play would've been at the very bottom.
From Christmas and on last season, the Blackhawks had the second-best power play with a 26.8 percent success rate. At one point over that stretch they were converting at a ridiculous 40 percent clip.
It was the penalty kill that weighed down the Blackhawks' special teams by finishing dead last. This season, it's been the exact opposite.
After going 0-for-3 in Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the Blackhawks slipped to 28th in power play percentage at 15.0. But failing to convert on those three opportunities wasn't the worst part.
The Blackhawks were outshot (3-2), out-chanced (4-2) and outscored (1-0) by the shorthanded Jets in 5:01 of power-play time and it changed the complexion of the game. Winnipeg's shorthanded goal in the second period was its first of five unanswered after the Blackhawks scored the first two in period one.
"The power play was a huge momentum-killer for us," head coach Jeremy Colliton said after the loss. "Not only did they score, but we didn’t react well to that adversity and it seemed to affect the rest of the game."
The Blackhawks have seemingly tried everything to fix their power play but nothing has clicked.
They started out the season by loading up the first unit with the same five-man group — Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Dylan Strome, Jonathan Toews and Erik Gustafsson — that dominated last season but they struggled to recapture that magic.
They separated Kane and Toews to balance out both units and that didn’t work either.
They replaced Gustafsson as the quarterback on the first unit for Adam Boqvist, incorporated more young guys into the mix, including Kirby Dach, and even tried practicing different looks with Dach and DeBrincat in the bumper role and still haven't found a formula that's stuck.
The concerning part is that the power play hasn't caught fire at any point in the season, so there isn’t anything to hang on to. The confidence with the man advantage is at a season-low and it’s noticeable.
So what's the issue? How can the Blackhawks go from the top of the league to the bottom in a year?
To help identify the problem, let's take a look at where the Blackhawks rank this season in several key underlying power-play categories on a per-two-minute basis, according to Sportlogiq:
— Zone entry success rate: 28th (60.0)
— Percentage of shots on net: 28th (48.1)
— Slot shots: 24th (0.9)
— Slot pass completions: 18th (1.37)
— Offensive zone possession time: 14th (0:39)
This is where they ranked last season from Dec. 25 and on:
— Zone entry success rate: 18th (63.7)
— Percentage of shots on net: 12th (54.0)
— Slot shots: 7th (1.09)
— Slot pass completions: 3rd (1.77)
— Offensive zone possession time: 1st (0:43)
Across the board, the Blackhawks had the puck more, created more scoring chances from high-danger areas and put more shots on net from the slot last season than this season. It's why the Blackhawks have put so much emphasis on who's stationed in the bumper role (high slot area).
The Blackhawks don't need a structural overhaul. It essentially comes down to puck movement and opening up lanes, which keeps the penalty killers honest.
Far too often we've seen the Blackhawks make one too many passes instead of putting the puck on net and that's what happens when things aren't going your way. You try looking for the perfect play but most times, simple is better. It doesn't always have to be pretty.
The Blackhawks have been able to overcome a struggling power play all season long because their penalty kill has been lights out. But with their backs against the wall, it's difficult to see the Blackhawks getting inside the playoff picture without solving their power play woes.
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