One of the biggest reasons why the Blackhawks had a successful first half of the season is because of their special teams.
Through their first 18 games, the Blackhawks ranked No. 2 in power-play percentage (32.7) and No. 11 in penalty kill percentage (82.1). They gave up only one shorthanded goal over that span, too.
But since Feb. 17, the Blackhawks rank No. 19 in power-play percentage (18.9), dead last in penalty kill percentage (66.1) and have given up four shorthanded goals in the last 24 games. And it's a big reason why they've fallen out of the No. 4 spot in the Central Division.
"It makes it harder to win, no question," a frustrated head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Obviously, it’s a priority."
At 5-on-5 over the last two losses, the Blackhawks have led in shot attempts (114-76), shots on goal (72-44), scoring chances (56-47) and high-danger chances (30-15), according to Natural Stat Trick. But they went 0-for-7 on the power play and 1-for-4 on the penalty kill in those games and that's been the difference.
"We've got to find a way to figure it out," Alex DeBrincat said. "I mean, it’s definitely costing us games or making us not as competitive. Scoring a goal on the power play or stopping one on the penalty kill can win you a game, and we haven’t really been able to score on the power play much lately. I think we just need to bear down, play a little simpler, get pucks on net and get back to the nitty-gritty areas and score a bad one."
The penalty kill had a stretch where they killed off nine straight penalties over a five-game span, but the inconsistency issues remain and the Blackhawks haven't found a solution yet.
"It's frustrating giving up goals and I don't have an answer, to be honest, to pinpoint something," Connor Murphy said. "There's different plays that result in goals but to be honest I don't know how to answer that with something specifically. It's just something that we have been giving up too many goals and it's very frustrating. We take a lot of pride in the penalty kill so it stings when you're giving them up. But you have to just stick with it. We've really been trying hard this year to get a lot better at it."
The Blackhawks experimented with a different-looking special teams unit at the end of Friday's practice to help change things up. They went with five forwards on a unit that included Vinnie Hinostroza, Patrick Kane, Dominik Kubalik, Philipp Kurashev and Carl Soderberg and also put Adam Boqvist and DeBrincat on the penalty kill.
"It's good to have options," Colliton said. "We’d like to give different guys some opportunity and just see how it looks. I think it could be something there."
The Blackhawks have 15 games left in the regular season and are about to embark on a crucial five-game road trip beginning on Saturday in Columbus. And if they want any chance at getting back into the playoff picture, the Blackhawks must solve their special teams woes.
"You want to play those games, you want to be in it, you want to win them," Kubalik said. "I like a lot of things about our game [Thursday], I just think we had some power plays and we didn't use them too much. Special teams are huge and we need to learn from it and be better next time."