Blackhawks’ power-play goals are being achieved
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter December 19, 2013 7:30PM
CANUCKS AT BLACKHAWKS
The facts: 7 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.
Updated: December 19, 2013 9:28PM
At the right point stood Duncan Keith, clutching his 7-month-old son, Colton, and chatting up Brandon Saad, who was wearing a sweater and collared shirt.
At the other point stood a front office staffer’s 15-month-old son, haphazardly kicking around a puck with his dress shoes. Marian Hossa lingered on the bench, weighing whether it was worth it to take his slightly spooked 2-year-old, Mia, onto the ice and risk a standard 2-year-old meltdown (he decided it wasn’t). And Brent Seabrook skated around holding his 4-month-old boy, Carter Seven, who wasn’t even wearing shoes.
The way things are going, though, had you put four opponents out there during the Blackhawks’ family holiday skate Thursday at the United Center, they might have scored anyway.
The power play — which went from bad in the regular season to worse in the playoffs last spring — is suddenly borderline unstoppable. The Hawks are scoring at a 24.6 percent clip, third-best in the league, and have scored at least one power-play goal in 10 consecutive games, their best run in 22 years. And they have 10 goals on 26 opportunities over their last six games.
Last season, the frustrated Hawks almost expected not to score on the power play, scoring only 16.6 percent of the time in the regular season and a dreadful 11.4 percent in the playoffs. Now? It’s fair to wonder if they almost assume they’re going to score every time an opponent takes a penalty.
“No, never,” Patrick Sharp said. “You guys know that special teams — power play, penalty kill — they run hot and cold. Right now, we seem to move it around pretty good, both units, and the pucks are going in. It’s been a key to our success the last little while, but we want to make sure we remember what makes us successful.”
And that means doing the one thing they didn’t do enough of last season — shooting the puck. Last season, the Hawks were cute with the puck, trying to use their cast of All-Stars to make the perfect play. It usually ended with too much passing and not enough shooting — if they even managed a successful breakout and entry in the first place.
This season, the Hawks are firing away, and with point men such as Keith, Sharp, Hossa and Seabrook constantly moving their feet to create shooting lanes, those pucks are getting through. The Hawks averaged only 1.26 shots on goal per power play last season and a mere 1.14 in the playoffs. This season, they’re averaging 1.51 — behind only league-leading Pittsburgh’s 1.64. It might not sound like much, but it makes a big difference on the scoresheet.
The Hawks are still getting the highlight-reel goals — witness Patrick Kane’s off-the-rush backhander in Nashville on Tuesday — but they’re also getting the simple ones on tips, through screens and off rebounds.
“The patience level and play recognition from the guys is high-end,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But it’s all because we’re shooting the puck, and things happen.”
Sharp is right about special teams being streaky — the Hawks can only hope the PK turns around eventually. But the Hawks’ power play has been quite consistent and almost identical at home (24.3 percent) and on the road (25.0 percent). Keith said that has as much to do with the personnel on the two units staying the same, allowing chemistry and confidence to keep building.
“We have two really good units, and if one unit doesn’t score, it seems like the other one is able to get a goal,” Keith said. “We’ve had the same units all season, so we have that chemistry with one another out there, with a lot of skill. It’s moving the puck around and just getting shots. And we’ve been able to score some timely goals.”
NOTE: The Hawks called up goalie Jason LaBarbera from Rockford and sent goalie Kent Simpson to the IceHogs.