Blackhawks need to make Predators' Pekka Rinne’s job tougher

Blackhawks need to make Predators' Pekka Rinne’s job tougher

Get tips, get deflections, get bodies to the net, get traffic, take away the goalies' eyes. It's the usual checklist for any team that wants to be successful, especially in the postseason. You want to score goals, get to the net.

But in Game 1, the Blackhawks didn't check enough of those off against Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.

"He definitely saw a lot of the shots. We didn't make it too hard on him. He had a shutout, but it probably wasn't the hardest shutout he had in his life," Ryan Hartman said. "I just think we need to get more pucks to the net."

The Blackhawks were implementing that a lot at Friday's practice, working on those tips, deflections and redirects. Now to use it in Game 2 on Saturday night, when the Blackhawks will look to tie their first-round series against the Predators.

Hartman, who's been good at that all season, was taking turns at the top-line left-wing spot with John Hayden. As of now, it looks like Hartman's most likely there, with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on Saturday. It should be a seamless transition; given he's been there before. The plan is clear, too.

"If I am playing there play hard, be hard to play against. We need more bodies at the net, so I'll be net-front," he said.

Team-wise the Blackhawks have to get back to that. Rinne was good on Thursday, no doubt. The Predators were, too, in terms of keeping the Blackhawks from causing too much of a ruckus in front of their net minder. The Blackhawks are just going to have to fight through it.

"They make it tough to get there and that's part of getting to that hard area. It takes will. It's easier said than done. But they all know if they want to score goals, that's where the rewards are," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Goalies are too good, too big and if they see the puck they're going to stop it. We have to get there in order to make it tough on them, at least try to get second opportunities. So we have to be tougher, harder to play against, certainly in that area."

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The Blackhawks’ early shots, especially, were from the perimeter. They got closer as the game went on but it wasn’t consistent. Rinne credited his teammates for making his job a little easier on Thursday.

“We did a really good job of making it hard for them to get in front of the net. Our D was playing physical, doing a good job of keeping them outside. I was able to see most of the shots,” he said. “But anytime you don’t score goals, the next day they want to put more bodies in front of the net, so we gotta expect that [in Game 2].”

Game 1 wasn't the Blackhawks' greatest outing but it's not the first time they've dealt with a 1-0 deficit – or worse. They had no problem with what they gave up, which wasn't much. It's what they didn't do on the other side that needs to change.

"I can't stress enough: get in front of his eyes, make it harder for him to see pucks," Hartman said. "Hopefully we put one in the net tomorrow."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis break down the changes made to the Hawks defensive zone coverage (1:50) and Patrick Kane’s current points streak (7:30). They also discuss how most of the players that have been scratched recently have had bounce-back efforts (11:20), as well as the improved play of Erik Gustafsson (18:12) and both special teams units (20:16). Plus, the debut of “Checkpoint Charlie," where Charlie gives us a taste of life on the road and his encounter with Chris Rock’s brother (29:00).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 


Blackhawks Talk Podcast


Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

The Blackhawks made a schematic change after their four-game road trip and they've seen the benefits of it immediately. They're 2-0-1 in their past three games and have scored 12 goals over that stretch.

We broke down on Monday what changes were made systematically and how it has freed up the offense, but head coach Jeremy Colliton elaborated on it Tuesday and explained the reasoning behind the decision.

"All it is is, our weak side forward, we pushed him up higher in defensive zone coverage," Colliton said. "Before, we had four low a lot of times, to try and overload in certain situations. That's good, it gets you out of D-zone, but the problem is when you win the puck back, a lot of times you're very close together and it's harder to make clean plays, it's harder to exit with space to make plays. So we were having trouble entering the zone.

"There's been a lot of talk about how we have been dumping too many pucks in. Well, we're not trying to dump the puck in, but when you're attacking and you don't have numbers, you don't have space in behind, you have to, you're forced too. I think we're doing a much better job of getting from D-zone clean, because we have a forward a little bit higher, there's a little more space, it happens quicker. And then I think we've done a good job with the low three [of] someone jumping by and then we can create a little bit more space off the rush and we don't have to chip it in. We can enter clean, make some plays and I think the guys are doing very well."

Patrick Kane, who has erupted for seven points (four goals, three assists) in the past three games since the change, sees the change opening up more opportunities for the Blackhawks on offense.

"I think a lot of us probably stressed that there wasn't as much flow to it, for whatever reason that was," Kane said. "They made a change and all of a sudden it seems like we have more options coming out of our end, we have more motion, more speed coming out of our end, which is always a good thing."

The Blackhawks' dump-in rate, as Colliton noted, has been much higher this season and it’s noteworthy because they generated a lot of their offense off the rush last season from mid-December and on. But what we didn’t know was the exact reason why the Blackhawks altered the way they entered the offensive zone.

Aside from the obvious answer of cutting down on neutral zone turnovers and limiting the amount of odd-man rushes against, Colliton notes the Blackhawks were forced to dump it in more because they weren’t entering the zone with numbers. The defensive scheme didn’t really allow them to.

But with the recent fundamental change, the Blackhawks have more options to exit their own zone cleanly, pick up speed through the neutral zone and do what they do best: by carrying the puck in and having more freedom to create offense. It’s something the coaching staff and players discussed with each other, and the consensus is it will maximize the talent of this group.

"We kind of felt it was time," Colliton said. "I mean, we're always talking with them for sure and guys, they want to score more. They want to produce, guys want to make plays. And so we're just trying to find the balance. We want to continue to work on being good defensively, but we've got to score more than them. I think we can still hold onto those defensive gains we've made and score more goals."

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