The horn sounded a second time within two-and-a-half minutes, Andrew Ladd scoring his second power-play goal of the night in that time span.
It was another power-play goal, which are coming in bunches for the Blackhawks again. But it’s not just the production part of special teams that is working for the Blackhawks right now. The penalty kill, which sputtered for a while, is returning to its familiar shutdown mode.
With the postseason just around the corner, the Blackhawks’ special teams are trending in the right direction.
The Blackhawks have gone 6-for-12 on their power play in their last three games, including 3-for-6 in their 6-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night. Their penalty kill, meanwhile, has gone 17-of-17 in the past six games.
Let’s look at the power play first. The advantage went 0-for-26 over a nine-game span before breaking out of its slump against Winnipeg on Friday. The Blackhawks have missed several players from that power play – a suspended Duncan Keith and injured Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa among them. They also lost Artem Anisimov on Tuesday when he was boarded; Anisimov is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Despite the missing pieces, the Blackhawks’ power play is surging. So what’s been different in recent games?
“Just movement. Movement's huge,” Patrick Kane said. “You knew it was a little bit different with Anisimov going out. But you know you've got Ladd, [Jonathan] Toews and myself and Bread Man [Artemi Panarin] out there. I think we just try to kind of play kind of more of a 5-on-5 style, just keep moving the puck, moving our bodies. Get them confused out there. It’s the right time to get hot here.”
On the flip side, the penalty kill has been keeping opponents from threatening more. In the last six games, the Blackhawks have faced various types of kills, from nixing five-minute majors (Keith’s penalty vs. Minnesota) to 5-on-3s (the Coyotes had two on Tuesday, albeit one was only 12 seconds). The Blackhawks have scored two short-handed goals in the last six games – Marian Hossa vs. Minnesota and Toews on Tuesday – but it’s more about stifling their opponents.
Toews said the Blackhawks recognized they had to fix the penalty kill fast.
“I think when things get bad enough, you focus on it enough and you make it your goal to improve upon whatever’s going wrong,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously our penalty kill was a glaring issue for a little while there and not only our ranking in the league, but just the fact that it was hurting us in games. It could have made a difference and we know that this time of year and the playoffs it is a huge deal for us defensively. We need to have that confidence that we can kill off penalties and be tough on teams and not give them any energy.”
It certainly helps that Marcus Kruger is back. While Kruger was in the penalty box twice on Tuesday – Toews scored his short-handed goal on Kruger’s first infraction – Kruger nevertheless gives coach Joel Quenneville another great killing option.
“I think he takes pride in, not the statistics, but doing the right things and being aware of what we’re trying to do, be it checking in the middle and in the zone and [being] very diligent on the little details that are a part of being successful on that unit,” Quenneville said. “He took a couple of penalties [Tuesday]; now we’re missing a guy we want out there, so has to stay away from that. But other than that, a real appreciation on how he can help and improve our PK.”
The Blackhawks wanted to get their game together before the postseason. Special teams are a vital part of that good overall game, and they’re clicking at the right time, too.